Head of UN rights probe into Gaza conflict urges accountability for war crimes

29 September 2009
A section of Gaza damaged by aerial bombardment [File Photo]

The head of the United Nations fact finding mission into the Gaza conflict today urged an end to impunity for human rights violations committed there earlier this year, given evidence that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants are guilty of serious war crimes and breaches of humanitarian law, which may amount to crimes against humanity.

“It is accountability above all that is called for in the aftermath of the regrettable violence that has caused so much misery for so many,” Justice Richard Goldstone said as he presented the mission’s report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which mandated the probe.

Following its three-month investigation, the mission concluded that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel in the context of its military operations in Gaza from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The four-member team, whose 575-page report was released earlier this month, also found that Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.

Justice Goldstone urged the 47-member Council to implement a number of measures, including referral of the mission’s report to the Security Council, since neither the Government of Israel nor the responsible Palestinian authorities have so far carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations.

“The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence,” he stated.

The report recommends that the Security Council require Israel and the authorities in Gaza to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified by the mission.

It also recommends that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli and Palestinian investigations and prosecutions.

If the experts’ reports do not indicate within six months that independent proceedings are taking place, the mission says the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“Now is the time for action,” said Justice Goldstone, a former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. “A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long.”

The other members of the team are Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science at the University of London; Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders; and retired Colonel Desmond Travers, member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).

Also briefing today was High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who presented her first periodic report, as requested by the Council, on key concerns and observations regarding the occupied Palestinian territory, including during the period of the Gaza conflict.

She said her report notes significant prima facie evidence of gross violations of international human rights law and serious breaches of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas during the military operations.

It recommends that all allegations of breaches – whether through attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza or indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel – be thoroughly investigated by credible, independent and transparent accountability mechanisms.

The High Commissioner added that conditions on the ground in Gaza continue to deteriorate. “With very few exceptions, Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants are trapped. They cannot exit the 45-kilometre long strip.”

Specifically, she referred to “the almost unbearable curtailment of Gazans’ right to work, their right to access to water, food, adequate housing and education, and their entitlement to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. These conditions impair the life and dignity of the people of Gaza.”


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