Posts Tagged ‘Ban Ki-moon’

Top Ten Myths about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

June 19, 2010

Jeremy R. Hammond, Foreign Policy Journal, June 17, 2010

A Palestinian boy throws a stone at an Israeli  tank in the occupied West Bank.

Myth #1 – Jews and Arabs have always been in conflict in the region.

Although Arabs were a majority in Palestine prior to the creation of the state of Israel, there had always been a Jewish population, as well. For the most part, Jewish Palestinians got along with their Arab neighbors. This began to change with the onset of the Zionist movement, because the Zionists rejected the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and wanted Palestine for their own, to create a “Jewish State” in a region where Arabs were the majority and owned most of the land.

For instance, after a series of riots in Jaffa in 1921 resulting in the deaths of 47 Jews and 48 Arabs, the occupying British held a commission of inquiry, which reported their finding that “there is no inherent anti-Semitism in the country, racial or religious.” Rather, Arab attacks on Jewish communities were the result of Arab fears about the stated goal of the Zionists to take over the land.

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UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

May 30, 2009

The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

“The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

“You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

Gaza: Pursuit of the Laws of War

May 10, 2009

If the UN fails to further investigate crimes committed during the conflict it will ensure stalemate, and more suffering for civilians

by Tom Porteous | The Guardian, UK, May 8, 2009

The Israeli government and its supporters have lashed out at the report of the UN board of inquiry into Israeli attacks on UN installations during Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza. The report, they say, is biased, tendentious and inaccurate. According to Robbie Sabel, writing in Comment is Free, the “unbalanced report” does “little to bring understanding or justice to the conflict in Gaza”.

The full report has not been published, but there’s little in the summary that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon sent to the security council on Tuesday to support such claims. On the contrary, it provides careful but compelling evidence that Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) violated the laws of war during their military operations around UN installations in Gaza.

According to the summary, the board of inquiry concluded that “IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence and recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property”. The board also holds “Hamas or another Palestinian actor” responsible for one attack on a UN installation – a World Food Progamme warehouse hit by a Qassam rocket.

The terms of reference of the UN inquiry were extremely narrow. Its job was to look at attacks on eight UN installations and one UN convoy during the period of Israel’s military offensive. As far as one can tell from the summary, the board has been meticulous in sticking to these terms of reference.

However, the conclusions of the inquiry, as represented in the summary (which, it should be noted, was not written by those who wrote the full report), raise broader questions about the use of force by the IDF during the conflict. It appears the authors of the UN report felt these questions should not be ducked. The summary notes that the board of inquiry was “deeply conscious” that the attacks on UN installations investigated in its report “are among many incidents ­during Operation Cast Lead involving civilian victims”.

The board therefore recommended that “these incidents should be investigated as part of an impartial inquiry, mandated and adequately resourced, to investigate violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza and southern Israel by the IDF and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants”.

But in his letter to the security council presenting his summary, secretary general Ban Ki-moon says bluntly: “I do not plan any further inquiry.” Whether under pressure from external sources – as reported in the Israeli media – or not, the secretary general has thus rejected his own board of inquiry’s most important recommendation even before the security council has had time to discuss it.

Indeed Ban could not even bring himself to put his weight behind an inquiry that has already been mandated by the UN human rights council to investigate broader laws of war violations in the Gaza fighting. Although the human rights council has often been criticised for an anti-Israel bias, this inquiry is headed by Richard Goldstone, who gained international respect for his critical role in dismantling apartheid in his native South Africa and served with distinction as the chief prosecutor at the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone has said that he will look at violations committed by both sides in the conflict.

So what happens now? The media and human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch have already documented serious violations of the laws of war by both sides in the conflict in Gaza, several of which have now been corroborated by this latest UN report. There is a strong prima facie case for a broad international and impartial inquiry, as recommended by the UN board.

Justice Goldstone’s inquiry (which has been accepted by Hamas but rejected by Israel) should be fully backed by the secretary general, the security council and all those states who profess to care about the vital importance of upholding the rule of law in international affairs.

There is a wide perception, backed up by strong evidence, that serious laws of war violations were committed in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Failure by the UN to investigate and make recommendations for the prosecution of individuals responsible for war crimes will perpetuate the climate of impunity that characterises this conflict, like so many others, and ensure that in the next round of fighting once again it will be civilians who suffer most. That will only further polarise and radicalise both sides and dim even further the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

© 2009 Guardian News and Media Limited

Tom Porteous is the London director of Human Rights Watch

Israel and the white heat of justice

January 23, 2009

A political solution for Gaza must not preclude the investigation of war crimes, including Israel’s use of white phosphorus


<Link to this video

Amnesty International has now joined the United Nations and Human Rights Watch in accusing the Israeli government of breaking international law outlawing the use of white phosphorus shells in the middle of highly populated areas of Gaza. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, has condemned Israeli attacks on UN humanitarian centres in Gaza as “outrageous” and has called for an independent, international inquiry.

Meanwhile a senior minister in the Israeli government has been quoted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying that when the full extent of the destruction brought on Gaza becomes known “I will not be taking my holidays in Amsterdam”. This possibly “humorous” observation referred to the possibility that leaders of the Israeli government may yet be arraigned before the International Criminal Court in The Hague – or a similar tribunal – to answer charges of war crimes.

Indeed some 300 human rights organisations have already prepared an initial 37-page dossier to be presented to the court. At the same time, in a move which could be equally damaging to the international standing of the Israeli government, a number of United Nations humanitarian agencies have insisted that there must be an independent, internationally approved, legal inquiry into the prima facie evidence of crimes committed. It is clear now that Israeli shelling and missile attacks – including those on UN facilities used as shelters for civilians during the war – have taken many hundreds of innocent civilian lives.

There is one obvious problem with taking steps to ensure that those responsible for the horrific massacres of civilians in Gaza are held accountable for their actions: Israel is not a member state of the ICC. The initial reaction of the ICC has been that it is therefore not open to the court to examine these charges. According to some senior French jurists, however, it should still be possible for the ICC to pursue named individuals for alleged crimes committed in Gaza.

There is also a precedent for the ICC to be asked by the United Nations to conduct such a trial – namely the current hearings into crimes against humanity allegedly committed by forces under the control of the government of Sudan in Darfur. It may be possible for the UN to establish a specific war crimes tribunal to hear the charges arising out of the actions of the Israeli forces in Gaza. After all, something very similar happened after the atrocities committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Rwanda genocide.

The Israeli government has denied that it was responsible for any war crimes committed during the course of its three-week campaign in Gaza. Interestingly, however, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert has expressed “remorse” for what happened to the civilian population of Gaza. One obvious question is: what does he feel guilty about? Some Israelis may also argue that Hamas has also committed crimes worthy of international condemnation. But, of course, it open to them to present such a legal dossier to the ICC authorities in the Netherlands.

Obviously, a UN mandate for a legal inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes would only come about if the Obama administration decides not to use its veto in the UN Security Council. But by allowing a legal investigation to proceed, the US would send the clearest possible signal that it intends to exercise far greater even-handedness between Israel and the Palestinians than it has ever done in the past. Moreover, the incoming administration is under growing pressure to sanction an inquiry into possible criminal action by the Bush administration in its use of torture.

No doubt, the British government, among others, will say that the priority of the international community must be to underpin the current ceasefire with a permanent peace agreement which provides for a two-state solution. But there is no reason why the push for a permanent agreement should exclude the rule of law from operating without inhibition. After all, this was the case in the former Yugoslavia.

According to Israeli opinion polls, the present coalition government is heading for defeat in the general election in three weeks’ time. The responsibility for negotiating a permanent peace settlement is likely to fall to an even more right-wing government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu.

That said, an inspiring feature of the feature of the worldwide demonstrations against Israel’s Gaza offensive has been the prominent role played by Jews and Jewish organisations in the protests. Organisations like Jews for Justice for Palestinians, along with a small but heroic opposition to the massacres in Israel itself. Israeli human rights activists have also now launched a website to identify alleged Israeli war criminals and assist their transfer to the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Israel ‘admits’ using white phosphorus munitions

January 20, 2009

Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday

Children play with a flaming lump, allegedly containing white phosphorus, in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday

The Israeli military came close to acknowledging for the first time yesterday its use of white phosphorus munitions during the war in Gaza, but continued to insist that it did not breach international law.As fresh evidence emerged of Gazan civilians being burned by phosphorus, Avital Leibovich, the army spokeswoman, said its use was “legal according to international law…All the munitions we were using were legal, like the French, American and British armies. We used munitions according to international law.

“They [Hamas] were committing war crimes by putting the civilians in the front line,” she said. “If Hamas chooses to locate training camps, command centres…in the middle of the [civilian population]…look how populated it is…naturally they are endangering the lives of civilians. Hamas is accountable for the loss of the civilians.”

Major-General Amir Eshel, the army’s head of strategic planning, said that firing shells to provide a smoke screen was legal. “It is the most nonlethal kind of weapon we used. I don’t see any issue with that,” he said.

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The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had privately admitted using phosphorus bombs, and that the Judge Advocate General’s Office and Southern Command were investigating.

The Times first accused Israeli forces of using white phosphorus on January 5, but the IDF has denied the charge repeatedly. Phosphorus bombs can be used to create smoke screens, but their use as weapons of war in civilian areas is banned by the Geneva Conventions.

Yesterday reports emerged from Gaza about the killing of five members of the Halima family, when a single white phosphorus shell dropped on their house in the town of Atatra on January 3. Two others were in a coma and three were seriously wounded, according to doctors and survivors.

Salima Halima, 44, who is in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, said that the chemical burst in all directions after hitting her living room.

Nafiz Abu Shahbah, a doctor who trained in Britain and America, said he was sure white phosphorus was responsible. Her wounds at first appeared superficial “but it eats at the flesh, it digs deeper and gets to the bone…The whole body becomes toxic,” he said.

In the Jabaliya refugee camp, the Associated Press found a crater that was still producing acrid smoke days after the war ended, and in the town of Beit Lahiya a lump of white phosphorus burst into flames after some boys dug it up from beneath some sand.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, expressed outrage at Israel’s destruction of Gaza yesterday, when he became the first world leader to visit the Palestinian territory since the end of the war. “This is shocking and alarming,” he declared while visiting a UN warehouse that was still smouldering after being hit on Thursday, allegedly by white phosphorus shells. “I’m just appalled.”

Visibly angry, he condemned Israel’s “excessive” use of force, and demanded that those responsible for shelling schools and other facilities run by the UN Relief and Works Agency during the 22-day offensive should be held to account. “It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack on the United Nations,” he said.

Israel has apologised for attacks on UN facilities but insisted in almost every case that Hamas fighters were using the buildings for cover.

Gazans count cost of war

January 20, 2009
Al Jazeera,  January 20, 2009

Palestinians say 25,000 buildings were damaged
or destroyed in Israel’s assault on Gaza [EPA]

Palestinians returning to their neighbourhoods have begun to unearth the true scale of destruction left by Israel’s 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Fragile ceasefires – declared separately by Israel and Palestinian fighters – continued to hold on Tuesday, as Israeli troops pulled back from some key points in Gaza towards the border.

Israeli army radio quoted unnamed military officials as saying that troops would pull out of Gaza by the time Barack Obama, the US president-elect, takes office on Tuesday.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is also set to survey the destruction in a trip to Gaza during the day.

Estimates for the rebuilding of Gaza’s devastated infrastructure have been put at billions of dollars.

Dire situation

In video
Unearthing Gaza’s destruction
Israel’s scorched earth tactics

John Holmes, the UN humanitarian chief, says hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid supplies will be needed for the people of Gaza.

Although 100,000 people had running water restored in their homes as of Sunday, 400,000 were still without it, Holmes said.

Electricity in Gaza is available for less than half the day and about 100,000 people have been displaced by the war.

Despite the three-week Israeli onslaught that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed thousands of buildings, Hamas and other Palestinian factions claimed victory in the fighting.

Israel had said the aim of its operations in Gaza was to cripple Hamas’s ability to launch rockets into the south of the country.

But a masked man calling himself Abu Obeida and claiming to be a spokesman for Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, said the group’s rocket-launching capacity had not been diminished, and threatened to renew fighting if Israeli forces did not withdraw.

“They [Israel] say they weakened Hamas. We assure you that what we have lost in this war is nothing compared to what we [still] have,” he said in a televised news conference on Monday.

Abu Obeida vowed that Hamas would replenish its arsenal of rockets and other weapons, in defiance of any Israeli or international efforts to cut off smuggling routes.

“Do whatever you want, bringing in and manufacturing the holy weapons is our mission, and we know how to acquire weapons,” he said.

Disease fears

GAZA TOLL

At least 1,300 people killed, including more than 400 children and more than 100 women

At least 5,300 Palestinians injured, including nearly 1,900 children and 800 women

At least 100,000 people forced from their homes

At least 13 Israelis killed, including three civilians

Meanwhile, scores of bodies have been discovered in the rubble of destroyed buildings since the fighting was halted.

Abed Sharafi, an ambulance driver, said on Monday that he had helped pull out the bodies of 15 children and women from under their house.

“They were so badly decomposed that we couldn’t distinguish boys from girls. Some had been there for 15 days,” he said.

Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting from Gaza City, said the World Health Organisation was warning of an outbreak of disease with bodies now several weeks old and sewage flowing over many areas because of the destruction to infrastructure.

The deposed Hamas-led government in Gaza estimates that more than 5,000 buildings were completely destroyed and 20,000 damaged or partially destroyed in the fighting.

Reports detail Congo atrocities

November 26, 2008

Government soldiers and rebels fighting in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have both committed serious human rights abuses, according to the United Nations secretary general.

A report presented by Ban Ki-moon to the UN security council documents atrocities perpetrated against the displaced civilian population of the vast region. Up to 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the past few months.

The details of mass killings and rapes emerged as Human Rights Watch released a separate report estimating that as many as 500 political opponents of President Joseph Kabila’s government had been murdered since 2006 elsewhere in Congo. It described the human rights situation in the central African state as “a cause for grave concern” despite a current lull in fighting.

The UN report, which covers conditions between July and November, said elements of the Congolese army and national police were responsible for violations including arbitrary killings, rape and torture.

Rebels – including those loyal to Laurent Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defence of the People and Rwandan Hutu fighters – are accused in the report of “perpetrating serious human rights abuses with impunity”. Among the Hutu fighters are said to be some who participated in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLE: U.S. and Canada Found Guilty of Racism

August 8, 2008

By Haider Rizvi | Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 – The international community now fully recognises the native peoples’ right to protect their lands and live distinct lifestyles. Yet, most of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples continue to face abuse and injustices at the hands of state authorities and commercial concerns.

“We must look at the substantial successes we have been able to achieve, but also reflect on how far we have to go,” Ben Powless of the Indigenous Environment Network told IPS on the eve of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Though pleased with the U.N. General Assembly’s decision last year to approve the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, Powless and other activists say they have no reason to believe that those who have occupied their native lands are willing to change their behaviour.

“Governments in the past have been complicit in genocides, land seizures, massive environmental degradation, and many other human rights abuses because [indigenous peoples] were denied their fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Powless, a Mohawk whose nation’s territory is now divided between modern-day Canada and the United States.

Last year when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, both the U.S. and Canada were among a handful of countries that voted against it.

“This shows how far we still have to go to make sure that states acknowledge and protect indigenous peoples’ rights, for if they continue not to, we have many examples of the grave results,” said Powless.

Recently, both the U.S. and Canada were found guilty by a Geneva-based U.N. rights watchdog, which keeps track of violations of the 1968 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) told Canada to take “appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent the acts of transnational corporations on indigenous territories.”

CERD took the Canadian government to task in response to a petition filed by indigenous organisations that charged private businesses from Canada were unlawfully involved in the exploitation of their lands located in the U.S.

The petition particularly focused on the situation facing the Western Shoshone — a Native American tribe whom some non-natives refer to as “Snake Indians,” although in their own language they are called Newe people.

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