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UN Group Accuses Hamas of Committing Sexual Violence and War Crimes in Oct. 7 Attacks

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A nine member UN technical team has found ‘reasonable grounds’ to conclude that Hamas committed sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, on Oct. 7.

Warning: Graphic content below, including descriptions of sexual assault. Victims in need of support, please call the Sexual Assault Hotline on 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). If you are in immediate danger, call 911. 

A United Nations group has found enough “clear and convincing information” to conclude that Hamas terrorists committed sexual violence during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and that similar acts are being carried out against those still held hostage in Gaza by the terrorist group.

Hamas killed 1,200 people during its Oct. 7 assault on Israel, and at least 253 Israelis and foreigners were kidnapped as hostages back to Gaza. At the moment, roughly 130 remain unaccounted for, but it’s believed that they are still being held in captivity. Among those, 30 are believed to be dead.

Following the Oct. 7 terrorist attack, Israel launched a ground operation and strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, over 30,000 Palestinians have since been killed in the fighting. Israel says it believes that at least 10,000 of those are Hamas combatants.

In a March 4 report, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, said her nine-member technical team found “reasonable grounds” to conclude that Hamas committed sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, during its assault on Israel.

Hamas has repeatedly denied allegations that its fighters committed acts of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks. Under humanitarian law (IHL) law, rape and other forms of sexual violence are classed as war crimes.

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According to Ms. Patton, the U.N. team’s on Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 visited Israel and the Palestinian-held West Bank. The team was not there to investigate allegations of sexual violence but to gather, analyze, and verify the information for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict. They did not request to visit the Gaza Strip because of the “ongoing hostilities.”

Based on first-hand accounts of released hostages, Ms. Patton said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some women and children during their captivity were subjected to the same conflict-related sexual violence, including rape and “sexualized torture.”

During its investigation, the U.N. team conducted 33 meetings with Israeli national institutions and visited a morgue, along with four locations where Hamas attacked. Over 5,000 images and 50 hours of footage were reviewed as well, and 34 people, including survivors, witnesses and first responders, were interviewed. According to the report, the mission team also believes rape and gang rape occurred at the Nova music festival site and its surroundings, where Hamas massacred 364 people on Oct. 7.

“In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed, and at least two incidents relate to the rape of women’s corpses,” the report said.

“The mission team also found a pattern of victims, mostly women, found fully or partially naked, bound, and shot, across multiple locations. Although circumstantial, such a pattern may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence, including sexualized torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Some Reports Couldn’t Be Verified

At the same time, the U.N. team found that some instances of rape could not be verified. According to the U.N. report, in Kibbutz Be’eri, it was determined that at least two allegations of sexual violence, which had been widely reported on, were unfounded. This included the story of a pregnant woman who had her unborn baby torn out of the womb.

Reports of Hamas committing rape and genital mutilation of female or male soldiers at the Nahal Oz military base were also unable to be proven by the team. According to the report, “forensic analysis revealed injuries to multiple body parts, including genitalia,” overall though, the U.N. team was “not able to establish a discernible pattern.”

According to Ms. Patten, they were not able to talk with any of the victims of sexual violence “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward.” The true number of victims remains unknown, but Ms. Patten said “a small number of those who are undergoing treatment are reportedly experiencing severe mental distress and trauma.”

“The true prevalence of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known,” she said.

Ms. Patten says a “fully-fledged investigation” would be required to establish more details about the magnitude of sexual violence that might have occurred.

During its brief investigation, Ms. Patton said her team faced challenges in gathering and verifying incidents because of limited professionally gathered forensic material, inaccurate and unreliable accounts, limited availability of survivors, and internal displacement of affected communities.

Other barriers included a lack of public trust and confidence in national and international institutions, and the intense media scrutiny of individuals whose accounts have appeared in the public domain, increasing trauma and fears of social stigmatization.

Ms. Patton said her team’s findings only underscore a “need to reach a ceasefire” agreement of some kind soon. She believes that any humanitarian ceasefire must have expertise in addressing conflict-related sexual violence, and stressed that the voices of women and affected communities should be heard in all conflict resolution and peace-building processes.

The team also visited Ramallah in the West Bank to hear of concerns and allegations from Palestinian officials that Israeli security forces have committed sexual violence. Those findings are expected to be included in an annual report from the office. The U.N. has asked Israel to allow for a more in-depth investigation.

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