Monday, September 27, 2010

UN Experts Call on Israel and Palestinians to Abide by Rule of Law in Gaza Conflict Probes

A United Nations monitoring committee is concerned that Israel may not have investigated all allegations of serious humanitarian violations during its deadly conflict in Gaza 21 months ago and said there is no indication that Hamas seriously investigated alleged abuses on its part.

But the committee – appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to assess domestic, legal or other proceedings by Israel and the Palestinians over allegations raised in the report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza conflict, known as the Goldstone Report – noted that the Palestinian Authority, in control of the occupied West Bank, was prepared from the very start to cooperate with it.

The Goldstone report stated that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead, which Israel said it launched to counter missile attacks from Gaza. More than 1,400 Gazans were killed and 5,000 others injured, while homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces were reduced to rubble.

“The committee views its report as a call to both sides to strictly abide by the rule of law,” Chairman Christian Tomuschat said today in presenting its findings to the Council. “The committee hopes and trusts that both sides will heed the findings of the report of the committee in their pending and forthcoming dealings with the offences that were committed during the Gaza conflict.”

The committee noted that Israel had “indeed taken steps to address some of the many complaints made,” he added, regretting its refusal to admit committee members to speak with its own investigators, but citing such positive measures as new procedures for the protection of civilians in urban warfare and the establishment of a doctrine on munitions containing white phosphorous which can gravely burn people.

“However, the committee remains concerned that not all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law have been investigated.”

Mr. Tomuschat noted lack of information substantiating whether the probe complied with international standards, “a fundamental lack of transparency,” and the issue of impartiality where the military advocate-general is both an adviser to the Government involved in planning the Gaza operations and responsible for referring cases for criminal investigation.

“It also appears that Israel has refrained from conducting a general review of the military doctrine regarding legitimate military targets as opposed to civilian targets,” he said. “The [Goldstone] Fact-Finding Mission rejected the Israeli viewpoint that the entire governmental infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including the Legislative Council building, was a legitimate target.”

The committee was also unable to visit the Gaza Strip, where Hamas seized power from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. “Unfortunately, the two reports the committee has received from the de facto authorities in Gaza did not indicate that a serious investigation into the violations alleged in the report of the fact-finding mission took place,” Mr. Tomuschat said, noting that they focus primarily on allegations aimed at Israel.

Because of Israel’s refusal the committee was also unable to visit the West Bank, but he welcomed the way the Palestinians had investigated the allegations through an independent commission.

“However, actual steps would have to be undertaken with a view to implementing the results of the investigation, in particular by commencing criminal prosecution against the alleged perpetrators where appropriate,” he said.

(UN Press Release)

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