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Justice for all Gaza victims, accountability for all war criminals

March 16, 2011

Neither Israel nor Hamas have conducted credible, independent investigations into the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict. Both parties have also failed to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and other grave human rights abuses.

While this is, of course, unfortunate, it is by no means surprising. What IS surprising – not to mention disappointing – is that the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) has so far failed to outline a clear plan for accountability.

Already in January 2009, Amnesty International called for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation of war crimes and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in Gaza. However, the HRC has failed to take any concrete action to ensure that such an inquiry actually takes place. We cannot let it fail again.

The ghost of war crimes past

International Criminal Court (ICC) logo

Amnesty International wants the Human Rights Council to take war crimes in Gaza to the International Criminal Court. Image by Wikipedia

The truth is said to be the first victim of all wars, and it certainly was in Gaza. All victims of the conflict – both Palestinian and Israeli – deserve to finally know the truth of how and why their lives were ruined. However, this is not just about the truth. Neither is it solely about justice, even though war criminals on both sides must of course be prosecuted. This is not just about what has happened in the past, but about what must not happen in the future.

Without the deterrent effect of credible accountability for war criminals, war crimes will most likely be commonplace in future conflicts, as future leaders feel they can literally get away with murder. We cannot let that happen. A Human Rights Council meeting is now in session in Geneva (28th February – 25th March). Amnesty International has representatives in Geneva right now. The organization is lobbying for the HRC to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This is an opportunity not to be missed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plays a critical role in leading the HRC. If the US demands accountability for Hamas and Israel, just as it did with Libya recently, the HRC will be hard-pressed not to follow.

Call on Secretary Clinton to demand accountability for war criminals and justice for the victims of the Gaza conflict!

Ending the impunity for serious violations in this bloody conflict is absolutely crucial for achieving justice and a sustainable peace in the region. Now is the time to put human rights ahead of politics!

UPDATE: According to Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution during its March session urging the UN General Assembly to refer the Gaza accountability issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The next General Assembly takes place in September 2011.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 10:14 pm

    It won’t happen because the ICC won’t ever prosecute a Hamas war criminal and, therefor, the US will not ever let them launch into – yet another – attempted holocaust against the Jews of Israel.

    Beyond all that, there’s the issue of what would reasonably constitute a war crime when the war is being fought in an urban environment with one side not wearing uniforms in the first place.

    The Geneva Convention is worthless in the modern world of warfare because the nature of conflicts and combatants have changed.

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  2. March 17, 2011 11:04 am

    I am not sure exactly what you are calling “yet another attempted holocaust”. Do you refer to the attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian groups? Or could you possibly be referring to the prosecution of Israeli war criminals by the ICC?

    You write that the ICC “won’t ever prosecute a Hamas war criminal”. I respectfully disagree. I allow myself to hope -maybe even believe – that if the matter is referred to the ICC, the court will investigate alleged war crimes thoroughly, and prosecute war criminals from both sides.

    Yes, there are of course certain difficulties connected with investigating war crimes and other violations of international law in this kind of conflict. However, it is not impossible. I firmly believe that even in this particularly horrible type of war, there are certain acts that cannot be excused or accepted. The repeated use of white phosphorus in densely-populated civilian areas seems to me like an example of this. The indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians would be another.

    Even though the Geneva Conventions (yes, there are several) were written in very different times, I would not call them worthless even today. Also, there are multiple other international conventions and treaties that give war faring parties certain responsibilities. As stated in my original blog post, grave violations of these regulations must be prosecuted. Or do you sincerely believe that anything goes, just because the nature of conflicts and combatants have changed?

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    • March 17, 2011 12:05 pm

      The UN and it’s ICC have been gunning for Israel’s destruction since the state was founded as you well know. Do you really think that they’d prosecute their allies, Hamas? Please!

      As for most of the rest – then the war criminals are Hamas et al for fighting within a densely-populated area. I can’t speak to “civilian” though; when nobody wears uniforms, what’s a civilian?

      And don’t forget that Israel has always forewarned each area via telephone, radio announcement, and leaflets that it was targeted. Any who stayed were no longer civilians since they decided on dying their to further Hamas’ and the UN’s war again Israel – or Hamas forced them to stay, something we’ll never be allowed to know.

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  3. March 17, 2011 1:49 pm

    No, I do not know that “UN and it’s ICC have been gunning for Israel’s destruction since the state was founded”. I have heard these claims before, but never seen them supported by anything even remotely resembling evidence. Can you bring new, convincing evidence to the table? Until you do, I will continue to view these claims as nothing but loose allegations.

    Yes, it seems very likely that Hamas did commit several war crimes and other serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the war in Gaza. Many of these crimes might well be connected to non-uniformed combatants fighting from and hiding in densely populated areas. However, that does not mean that the IDF is innocent of any allegations of war crimes. Neither does it excuse the use of white phosphorous or the attack on UNRWA’s field operations headquarters in Gaza City. Two wrongs do very rarely make one right.

    Forewarning each area was of little value when the inhabitants in many cases had nowhere to run. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, the massive onslaught of Israeli forces and the ensuing overall chaos made it pretty hard for civilians to escape from the so-called targets. If you are right in your allegations that Hamas forced them to stay, this still doesn’t give Israeli forces a carte blanche to bomb, kill or maim them. And indicating that “any who stayed were no longer civilians since they decided on dying their”, is downright absurd.

    As both Amnesty International and I myself point out: War criminals on BOTH sides must of course be prosecuted.

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    • March 17, 2011 5:52 pm

      If you don’t know that they’ve wanted Israel gone from the start after the long established pattern of behavior then no evidence I brought to the table would convince you.

      Your focus on White Phosphorus is a little ridiculous – one it’s used for illumination more often that attack and it’s a perfectly legal weapon of war – even Goldstone finally admitted that when forced to do so.

      As for the artillery bombardment of the UNRWA facility – Hamas was apparently fighting from within it, though the UN claims otherwise.

      The people – assuming Hamas would let them leave – could have left those targeted buildings. Israel used munitions meant for urban zones and used pin-point barrages instead of carpet bombing techniques.

      If they chose to stay, they’re valid targets. If they weren’t allowed to leave, it’s Hamas’ crime.

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  4. March 17, 2011 9:27 pm

    First of all,it was not my intention to focus on the use of white phosphorus. I brought it up as an example of possible war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict. I never meant to imply that it was the only incident that could very well constitute a war crime, nor that it was necessarily the most grave one.

    Second, while white phosphorus is indeed a legal weapon of war, the use of such weapons against civilians or in civilian areas might very well be in violation of Article 1 of Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons as well as one or more of the Geneva Conventions. It has also been argued that the use of white phosphorus against human targets may be in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, though these claims remain controversial.

    When it comes to the shelling of the UNRWA facility, I find absolutely no reason to believe your claims that Hamas was fighting from within the building over the UN claims that they were not.Israel itself has reprimanded two high-ranking officers for the incident. To me, this indicates that even the Israeli authorities admit that the shelling should never have happened.

    It seems pretty clear to me that there are some (many) things that we will never agree on, and I see little point in continuing this argument. However, I have two questions for you:

    1. You seem to sincerely believe that civilians become legal targets just by staying where they are after being warned that their current locations will be attacked. Is this logic applicable only to the Gaza conflict, or is it a universal principle? Does it apply to the war and insurgency in Iraq? What about the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan?

    2. You also seem pretty sure that Israel did not do anything wrong during the Gaza conflict, and that no war crimes were committed by Israeli soldiers or officers. If so, what would you or the IDF have to fear from independent investigations of the numerous allegations of such crimes?

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    • March 17, 2011 9:47 pm

      On your first question – it’d apply even to Brooklyn where I live. If you’ve been warned by the enemy that an attack is coming and you can leave but choose to stay, you’re a valid target.

      Of course I’m speaking of targeted attacks of limited scope like what was done in Gaza. A general warning that we’re attacking a city as a whole is a different matter unless we’ve warned them that were razing the city – a whole different potential war crime.

      On your second question – I’m quite sure that Israel bent over backwards to limit civilian casualties. I’m also quite sure that would matter to anyone appointed by the UN to look into things.

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