Israel compensation payment to UN ignores rights of Gaza victims

Amnesty International has said it is concerned that the United Nations (UN) accepted US$10.5 million compensation from Israel for UN buildings damaged during last year’s Gaza conflict without securing compensation for any of the actual victims of the attacks.The UN announced on 22 January that it had received the compensation from the government of Israel after an investigation into Israeli attacks on UN personnel and buildings, set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last February.The UN said that, with this payment, the financial issues relating to the attacks examined by the investigation were “concluded”.However, the investigation’s report had specifically recommended that the UN seek compensation not only for UN personnel and civilians killed or injured in attacks on UN premises, but also for civilian victims of other attacks during the fighting. “Surely, the acceptance of this sum for damage to UN buildings can only be the first step in repairing the damage caused by the conflict,” said Amnesty International in a letter to Ban Ki-moon on Monday, sent by the organization’s interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone.”The UN cannot ignore the lack of reparations to the hundreds of women, men and children who were killed, injured or the thousands who lost property during the Gaza conflict in attacks that violated international humanitarian law.”During Operation “Cast Lead”, the 22-day Israeli offensive in Gaza (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009), some 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children, were killed as a result of the Israeli offensive, hundreds of others were injured and thousands of homes were destroyed.Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians killed by indiscriminate rockets fired into southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups.During the conflict, a number of UN premises and operations were hit in military strikes and damaged, including schools, a health centre, a field office and a UN convoy. In several of these attacks, UN staff and Palestinian civilians who were inside or near buildings at the time were killed or injured.On 12 February 2009, Ban Ki-moon set up a Board of Inquiry with limited terms of reference to investigate attacks on UN personnel and buildings in Gaza.The Board’s full report, which has not been made public, was submitted to Ban Ki-moon on 21 April, who subsequently released a summary of the findings.In all, nine incidents were examined by the Board, including the case of UNRWA Jabalia Preparatory Boys School, which was repeatedly hit by Israeli mortar strikes on 6 January 2009, killing more than 30 civilians, and the shelling of UNRWA Beit Lahia Elementary School on 17 January 2009 when two children sheltering in the school were killed.The Board found that the Israeli military had repeatedly breached the inviolability of the UN, did not make sufficient efforts to protect UN staff or civilians and, in a number of the cases examined, was responsible for damage done to UN buildings and injuries and fatalities caused by Israeli attacks.In one incident examined by the Board, it was found that Hamas or another Palestinian actor was responsible for damage to a World Food Programme warehouse near the Karni crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip.Amnesty International emphasized in the letter that the rights of victims of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law to a remedy, including full and effective reparations “cannot be waived by the UN”.Amnesty International urged Ban Ki-moon to make clear to the government of Israel that it has an obligation to ensure that victims of violations by Israeli forces that occurred during the conflict have immediate access to an effective remedy, including full and effective reparations.The organization said that Ban Ki-moon should call on Hamas to “provide reparations to the victims of violations by the armed wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups” during the conflict.