Ban Ki-moon ‘misses opportunity’ on Gaza accountability

The UN Secretary-General has “missed an opportunity” by failing to make an assessment of the credibility of Israeli and Palestinian investigations into violations during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel just over a year ago, Amnesty International said on Friday. “This is deeply disappointing and a missed opportunity to help secure accountability for the conflict’s hundreds of victims,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Ban Ki-moon indicated on Thursday that “no determination can be made” on whether either the Israelis or Palestinians are complying with a UN General Assembly resolution of November 2009 that urged both sides to carry out investigations “that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards”. It requested the Secretary-General to report within three months on their implementation, “with a view to considering further action”. The resolution was based on the Goldstone Report, which accused both sides of war crimes. The Secretary-General explained his lack of action by the fact that “processes initiated” by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities were “ongoing”. However, Amnesty International believes that the information he had received was sufficient to show that steps being taken by both sides were clearly inadequate and that this message should have been conveyed to them in the report. Amnesty International urges the UN Secretary-General to remedy the situation by immediately preparing an independent assessment of the steps being taken by Israel and the Palestinian side to address accountability and requesting input from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other independent experts in international humanitarian and human rights law. Amnesty International wrote to Ban Ki-moon on 20 November 2009 with a similar recommendation. Such an assessment should be made available to the General Assembly and the Security Council in the coming months and provide a solid basis for decisions on further action that are necessary to secure accountability for both sides. This may include an eventual referral of the situation in Gaza by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International’s assessment is that the responses presented to the UN Secretary-General by Israel and Palestinian representatives demonstrate that neither side has taken the necessary steps to conduct investigations “that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards”. The organization has described the response of the Israeli authorities as “totally inadequate”, since investigations undertaken by them to date have failed to meet “international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness”. The official Palestinian response to Ban Ki-moon was submitted by the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN and conveyed a letter from Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The letter indicates that an investigative commission has recently been established but that investigations have yet to be carried out into specific allegations of violations of international law committed during the conflict. Documents made public this week by the Ministry of Justice of the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, by way of a response to the General Assembly’s call for investigations, provide no evidence of investigations which comply with international standards and focus on either denying the allegations of abuses committed by Palestinian armed groups or providing justifications for those violations.