UN body can help bring international justice for Gaza conflict victims

By Rachel Campbell, Amnesty International Campaigner for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Today, the UN Human Rights Council will meet to begin debating a crucial report on seriously flawed Israeli and Palestinian investigations into grave violations of international law committed during the 2008-2009 conflict in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel.

By the end of the week it will vote on a resolution on what should be done next. If it does the right thing, its actions could take the conflict’s victims a step closer to achieving the justice denied to them for over two years – this time at an international level.
The report being debated this week is the second report from of a committee of independent experts which the Human Rights Council asked to assess these domestic investigations.

In the report, issued last Friday, the committee concluded for the second time that Israel has not investigated the actions of the military and civilian leaders who planned and commanded its military operations, and that it has not been transparent about the investigations it has conducted into alleged violations of international law during the conflict.

The committee also found that the Hamas authorities have failed to conduct investigations into the actions of Palestinian armed groups, specifically the firing of rockets into Israel.

Importantly, the committee noted that the needs of victims have yet to be addressed. They quote one Gazan resident, who provided information to the investigation, describing the Israeli investigations as “superficial, not significant, and misleading to the international community.” The person decided to testify anyway “out of a belief that we are civilians and innocent”.

An Israeli woman, a victim of rocket attacks in southern Israel, voiced her frustration when she said: “I have no Court, no one to represent me, no one to sue. Is that real justice?”

Last Friday, Amnesty International also published its own updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian investigations, together with its recommendations for what should happen next.

The assessment reiterates our view, shared by other human rights organizations, that more than two years after the conflict, both the Israeli and Hamas authorities have failed to undertake credible, independent investigations meeting international standards.

The devastation caused by that conflict was unprecedented: over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza, and thousands more were injured. Three Israeli civilians were killed by indiscriminate rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups.

In September 2009, the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Justice Richard Goldstone, found that both sides had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and called on both sides to conduct credible, independent investigations within six months.

As Amnesty International’s assessment was published, our appeal for action calling on the Human Rights Council to make justice for the victims a reality – and not merely an aspiration – had gathered 108,927 signatures since its launch in January.

Amnesty International’s petition calls on the Human Rights Council to vote for effective action to end impunity for crimes committed during the conflict.

Simultaneously, Amnesty International members are telling their governments – including members of the Human Rights Council – that after two years of inaction, it is startlingly clear that neither the Israeli nor the Hamas authorities have any intention of carrying out credible investigations and bringing perpetrators to justice.

We are urging the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution effectively telling the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, because we believe this is the only way to ensure justice for the Palestinian and Israeli victims.

Recent events have demonstrated that such a step is possible. Only last month the UN Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

This swift decision served to highlight the international community’s unwillingness over the last two years to address impunity for crimes committed during the Gaza conflict. Double standards are unacceptable; the UN must show consistency and take the same steps for justice for the victims in Gaza and southern Israel.

Last week, the Organization of the Islamic Conference proposed a draft resolution on behalf of the Palestinian Authority for the Human Rights Council to consider. Worryingly, it is inadequate and risks hindering the process towards international justice unless it is significantly amended.

The draft resolution recommends that the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission, published a year and a half ago, should be referred again to the UN General Assembly. But the Goldstone report was already endorsed by the General Assembly back in November 2009!

To take effective action, the Human Rights Council must now refer the committee of independent experts’ reports to the General Assembly, which can refer the situation of the Gaza conflict on to the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body.

Moreover, the resolution is one-sided since it deals only with violations carried out by Israel while ignoring the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired indiscriminate rockets into southern Israel. Any effective resolution must apply to both sides; it cannot be selective.

Amnesty International members have been making all efforts to convey to members of the Human Rights Council that they must use this – realistically their last – chance to help ensure that Palestinian and Israeli victims of the conflict finally obtain justice.

They must take heed of the conclusions of the committee of independent experts, condemn the Israeli and Hamas authorities’ failure to investigate serious crimes under international law and prosecute suspected perpetrators, and adopt a resolution which will help deliver an international justice solution for the victims.

Video: Amnesty International’s Philip Luther on the need for international justice for the victims of the Gaza conflict