Top official claims UN ‘failing in duty’ towards Palestinians in Gaza as he steps down

A top official from the United Nations in New York has said the organisation has failed to stop what he claimed was a “textbook case of genocide” unfolding in Gaza, in a damning parting shot as he stepped down from his role.

“I write at a moment of great anguish for the world, including for many of our colleagues,” said Craig Mokhiber from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in his resignation letter dated 28 October.

“This will be my last communication to you,” he wrote to the UN’s High Commissioner in Geneva, Volker Turk.

The official recounted his experiences “in these halls through the genocides against the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, the Yazidi, and the Rohingya”.

“In each case, when the dust settled on the horrors that had been perpetrated against defenseless civilian populations, it became painfully clear that we had failed in our duty to meet the imperatives of prevention of mass atrocities,” he said.

“As someone who has investigated human rights in Palestine since the 1980s, lived in Gaza as a UN human rights advisor in the 1990s, and carried out several human rights missions to the country before and since, this is deeply personal to me,” he wrote.

“In Gaza, civilian homes, schools, churches, mosques, and medical institutions are wantonly attacked as thousands of civilians are massacred. In the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem, homes are seized and reassigned based entirely on race, and violent settler pogroms are accompanied by Israeli military units. Across the land, apartheid rules,” he said.

An official statement from the UN Human Rights Office issued on 31 October stated: “New York Office staff member Craig Mokhiber informed the UN in March 2023 of his upcoming retirement. The views in a letter made public today are the personal views of the staff member whose retirement takes effect tomorrow (1 November). The position of the Office on the grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel is reflected in our public reports and statements.”

Supporters of Israel asked that Mr Mokhiber be sacked after his letter to Mr Turk was shared widely on social media.

“Senior UN ‘human rights’ official who used UN letterhead & UN email address to call for the destruction of the Jewish state – Craig Mokhiber – should be fired now,” Anne Bayefsky, director of Touro College’s Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust in New York wrote on X/Twitter.

Earlier in March this year, Mr Mokhiber was accused by Israeli social media users of bias against the country over his vocal support of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions [BDS] movement.

“....criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is not antisemitic, any more than criticism of Saudi violations is Islamophobic, criticism of Myanmar violations is anti-Buddhist, or criticism of Indian violations is anti-Hindu,” he said.

Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected global calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and reiterated that it is “time for war”.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military attacked the Jabalia refugee camp killing dozens. Gaza’s health ministry said more than 50 people were killed in the attack and 150 others were wounded.

In several videos and photos posted by local photographers, Gaza residents could be seen digging up the dead from the rubble with their hands.

Since Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel – in which 1,400 people were killed – the country began retaliatory strikes on Gaza.

Gaza’s health ministry has said Israel’s bombardment has killed more than 8,500 Palestinians, including nearly 3,500 children.

This article was amended on 2 November 2023. It previously said that Mr Mokhiber had resigned as a result of what he perceived as the UN’s failures in Gaza, but his letter was a parting shot as he left the organisation.