U.S. Statement at the World Health Organization’s
Special Session of the Executive Board
As Delivered by Ambassador Bathsheba Crocker
Thank you chair, thank you DG Tedros and your team, both here and joining us online.
Excellencies, we would like in this body to remain focused on our shared goal of addressing health care needs in the region, and to the greatest extent possible to avoid provocative political statements.
The United States is heartbroken by every civilian life lost, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli. Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety, dignity, and peace.
The people of Israel and Gaza have suffered in this conflict. The United States will continue to do everything it can to alleviate the suffering of civilians and deliver life-saving aid to those in need, and to emphasize to all parties the critical importance of protecting civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.
We appreciated the reports and insights from the DG and other speakers, which were sobering and very difficult to hear.
We had hoped for a short, balanced, and focused resolution on supporting the health care needs in Gaza that could achieve consensus, but we can accept the Rev1 draft as submitted. We appreciate the colleagues that worked to revise the original text, as we prefer to avoid voting in WHO whenever possible. We will be pleased to explain our position later in the agenda today.
We also appreciate the leadership of countries in the region, especially the government of our Chair, Qatar, for their efforts to facilitate the release of hostages held by Hamas and other terrorist organizations and the pause in hostilities that allowed increased humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza who so desperately need it.
We continue to support Israel’s inherent right to defend itself against terrorism, consistent with international humanitarian law, to ensure a terrorist attack like October 7 never happens again. We are disappointed that the resolution text does not mention that Hamas’ terrorist attack killed over 1,200 people, the sexual violence Hamas has perpetrated, or that more than 200 hostages were taken by Hamas, and many continue to be held.
The United States has been clear that civilians at hospitals, medical personnel, and patients must be protected, and we are grateful to WHO for its continued work to address the most urgent health needs in Gaza, including through the provision of life-saving medical supplies.
We have repeatedly stated that hospitals in Gaza must be enabled and supported to run effectively, including by ensuring fuel supplies for their life-saving work and ensuring safe and effective evacuation routes when needed. At the same time, the international community, but especially members of this body, should join us in insisting that hospitals not be militarized or used to shelter terrorists hiding among civilians.
We also recognize the devastating toll the conflict has had on humanitarian workers, with, as of December 8, at least 144 humanitarian workers, including from WHO, killed in Gaza since October 7, and we deeply mourn their loss.
We are profoundly grateful to the many humanitarians operating in Gaza at great personal risk – including UNRWA and other UN humanitarian agencies – for their steadfast dedication to saving lives in such challenging circumstances.
I thank you, Chair.
U.S. Explanation of Position at the World Health Organization’s
As Delivered by Ambassador Bathsheba Crocker
December 10, 2023
Thank you, Chair.
Colleagues, as we said in our statement earlier, we are heartbroken by the images out of Gaza and the deaths of many thousands of civilians, including women and children.
With partners throughout the region and across the globe, the United States has been leading efforts to increase the flow of life saving assistance to civilians in Gaza. We are grateful for the work of WHO and other humanitarian partners, and we grieve the loss of UN staff and their families.
The United States is grateful for the efforts of so many members of the Executive Board who worked to reach a consensus text. We agreed not to block consensus on the text, but we must be explicit about our significant reservations.
The United States does not agree with the language in preambulatory paragraph 8 and dissociates from it. As we expressed at the Security Council on Friday, calls for a ceasefire are not only unrealistic but dangerous – for a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7. Hamas does not dispute this. A few days ago, a senior Hamas official again stated the group intends to repeat the vile acts of October 7, “again and again and again.”
The United States also does not agree with the language in operative paragraph two and dissociates from it. While the United States continues to underscore the imperative of making available medicine and medical equipment to civilian populations and recognizes that certain relevant obligations under international humanitarian law could apply in certain circumstances, there is no general international humanitarian law or international human rights law obligation to ensure the supply and replenishment of medicine and medical equipment.
As a point of clarification, the United States does not recognize the terminology of “Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.” Rather, sovereignty issues need to be negotiated between the two parties going forward.
Additionally, the United States considers this resolution and the focus of our discussions today to apply solely to the current situation in Gaza.
No part of this resolution, including references to obligations under international humanitarian law, should be understood to alter the current state of conventional or customary international law or create rights or obligations under international law.
The United States regrets the lack of balance in the resolution and notable weaknesses in the text. We continue to condemn the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas against Israel and the taking of hostages. The text does not even mention that Hamas’ attack killed over 1,200 people, women, children, and the elderly, or the acts of sexual violence Hamas has perpetrated. It doesn’t mention that over 200 hostages were taken, people of many nationalities, including infants and the elderly, and that many continue to be held by Hamas. It also fails to condemn Hamas’s documented practice of deliberately sheltering themselves among civilians, including inside residential buildings, hospitals, and schools, deliberately increasing the likelihood of civilian casualties when terrorist military targets are struck.
We reiterate that humanitarian pauses should be accompanied by the unconditional release of all remaining hostages still held by Hamas and expect that in the interim the hostages’ humanitarian needs, including medical care, must be met.
Thank you, Chair.