UN report finds ‘convincing’ information that hostages in Gaza were raped

A United Nations team has found “clear and convincing” information that hostages in Gaza were sexually abused and there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the sexual violence is ongoing.

Pramila Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, said the team had found “reasonable grounds to believe that conflict related sexual violence, including rape and gang rape occurred” during Hamas’ October 7 terror attack in Israel. It amounted to UN’s most definitive finding on allegations of sexual assault in the aftermath of the attack.

The UN team, which was led by Patten, visited Israel between January 29 to February 14 for a mission “aimed at gathering, analyzing, and verifying information on conflict-related sexual violence” during October 7 and its aftermath, according to a 24-page report.

The team also went to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank where it received allegations of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment… including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence, namely invasive body searches; threats of rape; and prolonged forced nudity” on Palestinians in detention, the UN report wrote.

Patten stressed on Monday that the mission “was neither intended nor mandated to be investigative in nature,” adding that the team had 33 meetings with Israeli institutions while in Israel, interviewed 34 people, including survivors and witnesses to the October 7 attack, and released hostages, as well as reviewed 50 hours of footage of the attacks.

The mission was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence on October 7 “despite our efforts,” Patten said. “On the very first day, I made a call for survivors to come forward. But we received information that a handful of them were receiving very specialized trauma treatment and were not prepared to come forward,” she said.

Hamas has previously denied that its militants committed rape during the October 7 attack.

“We strongly reject and denounce the coordination of some Western media outlets with the Zionist misleading campaigns that promote unfounded lies and allegations aimed at demonizing the Palestinian resistance, the latest of which is the allegation that resistance members committed ‘sexual violence’ during the Battle of Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7th,” Hamas’ political office said in a statement on Telegram in December.

Findings in Israel and the West Bank

The report said that the mission team found that, across various locations in Israel, “several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”

Although circumstantial, the report continued, “such a pattern of undressing and restraining of victims may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”

Patten said grave violations, most involving rape, were identified in at least three locations, “namely the Nova music festival site and its surroundings, Road 232, and Kibbutz Re’im.”

The mission, however, had challenges in “both the gathering and verification of incidents of sexual violence” Patten noted.

She highlighted the “limited professionally gathered forensic material” and “inaccurate and unreliable forensic interpretation by some non-professionals” at the crime scenes.

The UN team’s research was also constrained by “the extremely limited availability of victims, survivors and witnesses of sexual violence due partly to the internal displacement of affected communities, the lack of public trust and confidence in national and international institutions, including the UN,” she said.

Some widely reported alleged incidences were also determined by the mission to be “unfounded,” she said. These included an unverified claim of a gruesome attack on a pregnant woman and her fetus. An official from an Israeli search and rescue organization told CNN in October that they had found a pregnant woman shot from behind and stabbed in the stomach.

The report also said the team was unable to verify a reported case of rape in Nahal Oz military base and genital mutilation. “With respect to the latter instance, while the forensic analysis reviewed injuries to intimate body parts, no discernible pattern could be identified, against either female or male soldiers. However, seven female soldiers were abducted from this base into Gaza,” the report wrote.

While in the West Bank, the mission said they were told of the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” Palestinian women and men faced while in detention.

The mission were told that Palestinian detainees faced various forms of sexual violence, from “unwanted touching of intimate areas and forced unveiling of women wearing Hijab; beatings, including in the genital areas; threats of rape against women and threats of rape against female family members (wives, sisters, daughters) in the case of men.”

The report said that concerns were also raised about the circulation of pictures of women detainees in and “depriving women of menstruation products.”

CNN has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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