Human Rights Council calls for an end to arms transfers to Israel and condemns Israel’s use of explosive weapons

Human Rights Council calls for an end to arms transfers to Israel and condemns Israel’s use of explosive weapons

By Patrizia Scannella, WILPF’s Human Rights programme
16 April 2024

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) held its 55th session (HRC55) from 26 February to 5 April 2024. There was a significant focus on the situation in Gaza and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory more broadly. The HRC held an interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese, following the presentation of her compelling report entitled ‘Anatomy of a Genocide’. The HRC also held an Interactive Dialogue on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk. 

The HRC adopted four resolutions relating to the situation in Palestine, including the resolution on “Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice.” This marked the first time that the HRC has acted on the situation in Gaza since 7 October 2023.

Compared to the resolution adopted in March 2023, this resolution includes several new elements to reflect the dire situation on the ground. These include a call for “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, for immediate emergency humanitarian access and assistance;” a reference to “the determination by the International Court of Justice that there is a plausible risk of genocide;” a demand that “Israel uphold its legal responsibility to prevent genocide and fully abide by the provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice on 26 January 2024;” and a call upon all states to ensure that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) receives predictable sustained and sufficient funding to fulfil its mandate.

As noted in an article published by WILPF about this resolution, there are times “when law must force action, prevent atrocities, and move us towards a restoration of sanity and common humanity. This happened last week when the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) paid attention to the multiple reports from UN bodies and courts and added its voice to those calling for an immediate ceasefire and compliance with international law.”

Strong language on transfers of weapons, munitions, and other military equipment

The resolution refers to Israel’s use of explosive weapons and, quite significantly, it includes several paragraphs regarding the transfers of weapons and other military equipment to Israel. Among other things, the resolution condemns the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects by Israel in populated areas in Gaza, underlining the “reverberating effects of such weapons on hospitals, schools, water, electricity and shelter, which are affecting millions of Palestinians.” The resolution also condemns “the use of artificial intelligence to aid military decision-making that may contribute to the commission of international crimes.”

In this context, the resolution “calls upon all States to cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel, the occupying Power, in order to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights.” It also calls upon all atates “to refrain, in accordance with international norms and standards, from the export, sale or transfer of surveillance goods and technologies and less-lethal weapons, including ‘dual-use’ items, when they assess that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that such goods, technologies or weapons might be used to violate or abuse human rights.” 

Furthermore, the resolution “recognises the grave violations of multiple peremptory norms by Israel and calls upon all States to ensure that their arms exports do not contribute to or benefit from this unlawful situation.” This follows a paragraph in which the HRC “affirms that no State shall recognize as lawful a situation created by a serious breach by a State of an obligation arising under a peremptory norm of general international law, nor render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation, and that all States shall cooperate to bring to an end through lawful means any serious breach.”

The resolution goes even further by requesting the UN Commission of Inquiry on Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel to report to the HRC on the legal implications for States providing such military support. The Commission is to report on “both the direct and indirect transfer or sale of arms, munitions, parts, components and dual use items to Israel, the occupying Power, including those that have been used during the Israeli military operation in Gaza since 7 October 2023, and to analyse the legal consequences of these transfers, applying international humanitarian law, customary international law related to State responsibility and the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Commission is to present this report to the HRC’s fifty-ninth session (June/July 2025). It is crucial that civil society groups, activists, affected communities, and other experts working on these issues provide the Commission of Inquiry with all the necessary information to ensure it can prepare this analysis mandated by the HRC.

Amendments to the resolution

The zero-draft resolution had included even stronger language than the adopted text, which demanded, for example, that “all States immediately cease direct or indirect provision to Israel of arms, munitions, parts, components or dual use items, and review all existing contractual arrangements with and licences granted to Israel relating to the manufacture and maintenance of arms, munitions, parts or components, with a view to terminating them until it complies fully with its obligations under international law.” The zero-draft resolution would also have had the HRC “reaffirming that any transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza against the Palestinian civilian population is likely to violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law and must cease immediately.”

However, as result of requests made during the negotiations, this even stronger language was either deleted or modified. For example, the European Union asked for the deletion of the latter of these two paragraphs and added that if the resolution was going to include language on arms transfers, then there needed to be a reference to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) as the only legally binding instrument in this field. The final text adopted by the HRC includes an explicit reference to the ATT in the above-mentioned request for a report by the Commission of Inquiry.


The draft resolution was presented by Pakistan on behalf of States Members of the United Nations that are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (except Albania, Cameroon, and Togo), jointly with the State of Palestine, Bolivia, and Cuba. As of Monday, 8 April, the list of additional co-sponsors included Chile, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Indonesia, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, and Venezuela (states had until Friday, 19 April to indicate whether they want to join the co-sponsors; so, more states might have joined this list).

Voting results

This resolution was adopted by a vote (requested by the United States); the result of the vote was as follows:

In favour (28): Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Chile, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Qatar, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Viet Nam.

Against (6): Argentina, Bulgaria, Germany, Malawi, Paraguay, and United States.

Abstentions (13): Albania, Benin, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, France, Georgia, India, Japan, Lithuania, Montenegro, Netherlands, and Romania.  

It’s worth noting that EU member states took different positions. Bulgaria and Germany opposed the resolution, Belgium, Finland, and Luxembourg voted in favour, while France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Romania abstained. Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia, and Spain co-sponsored the resolution.

Statements during the adoption

The following countries took the floor: Pakistan, Algeria, South Africa, Cuba, Palestine and Israel, the United States, Chile, Japan, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Brazil, France, China, Argentina, Germany, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Luxembourg, and Finland. You can listen to their statements using the video at this link

With regard to the issue of arms transfers, Finland (which voted in favour of the resolution) highlighted its full commitment to respect and to ensure respect for IHL and to the fulfillment of obligations under ATT as well as the Wassenaar Arrangement established to promote transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual use goods and technologies. The Netherlands (which abstained on the vote) stated its serious reservations with regard to the references to the transfer of military equipment. The Netherlands added that it assesses transfer of military equipment with special caution and vigilance on a case-by-case basis in line with its obligations under the ATT and EU Council Common Position on Exports of Military Technology and Equipment. Luxembourg, which voted in favour, said it is not understandable why no state should deliver weapons, munitions or other military material to Israel, but they could continue to do so to Hamas. Indonesia called upon all states to contribute to preventing acts that amount to genocide in Gaza, including by ending transferring arms to Israel. Cuba stressed the importance of accountability mechanisms not just for Israel’s actions, but also for state accomplices that keep up the financing sale and transfer of weapons to Israel.