Posts Tagged ‘UN Human Rights Council’

U.N. Body Backs War Crimes Charges on Israel, Hamas

October 17, 2009

By Thalif Deen, Inter Press Service News

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 (IPS) – The 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC) approved a resolution Friday endorsing war crimes charges against Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as spelled out in a report by a four-member international fact-finding mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone.

As expected, the United States threw a protective arm around Israel and voted against the resolution, along with some members of the European Union (EU): Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovakia, as well as Ukraine.

“The voting was predictable,” an Asian diplomat told IPS, pointing out that while Western nations voted against the resolution or abstained, most of the developing countries voted in favour.

The vote was 25 in favour, six against, 11 abstentions and five no-shows.

The Geneva-based Council not only endorsed the recommendations of the Goldstone report but also strongly condemned Israeli policies in the occupied territories, including those limiting Palestinian access to their properties and holy sites, particularly in occupied Jerusalem.

Continued >>

Israel’s Crimes, America’s Silence

June 21, 2009

By John Dugard | The Nation, June 21, 2009

President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Palestinians and people throughout the region were shocked at the firepower Israel brought to bear against Gaza’s civilians and do not want Palestinians’ ongoing misery to be further ignored. Many were surely waiting to hear from President Obama that the way to peace does not lie through the devastation of civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza.

To date, too little mention has been made of investigations that show there is sufficient evidence to bring charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israel’s political and military leadership for their actions in Gaza. Recently, two comprehensive independent reports have been published on Gaza, and earlier this month a mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, and chaired by South African Richard Goldstone, visited Gaza to conduct a further investigation into Israel’s offensive.

On May 4 the United Nations published the findings of an investigation into attacks carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on UN premises in Gaza. Led by Ian Martin, formerly head of Amnesty International, this investigation found Israel responsible for wrongfully killing and injuring Palestinians on UN premises and destroying property amounting to over $10 million in value. Although this investigation did not address the question of individual criminal responsibility, it is clear that the identified wrongful acts by Israel constituted serious war crimes.

On May 7 the Arab League published the 254-page report of an Independent Fact Finding Committee (IFFC) it had established to examine the legal implications of Israel’s Gaza offensive. This committee, comprising six experts in international law, criminal law and forensic medicine from non-Arab countries, visited Gaza in February. We concluded that the IDF had committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity.

As the committee`s chairman, I spent five days in Gaza along with the other experts. Our views were deeply influenced by interviews we conducted with victims and by the evidence of destruction of property. We were particularly disturbed by the accounts of cold-blooded killings of civilians committed by some members of the IDF and the Israeli military’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas. The devastation was appalling and raised profound doubts in my mind as to the veracity of Israeli officials who claimed this was not a war against the Palestinian people.

The IFFC found that the IDF, in killing some 1,400 Palestinians (at least 850 of whom were civilians), wounding over 5,000 and destroying over 3,000 homes and other buildings, had failed to discriminate between civilian and military targets, terrorized civilians, destroyed property in a wanton manner not justified by military necessity and attacked hospitals and ambulances. It also found that the systematic and widespread killing, injuring and terrorizing of the civilian population of Gaza constituted a crime against humanity.

The IFFC investigated the question whether the IDF was responsible for committing the ‘crime of crimes’ — genocide. Here we concluded that although the evidence pointed in this direction, Israel lacked the intention to destroy the people of Gaza, which must be proved for the crime of genocide. Instead, the IFFC found that the purpose of the offensive was collective punishment aimed at reducing the population to a state of submission. However, the IFFC did not discount the possibility that individual soldiers had acted with the required genocidal intent.

Israel’s argument that it acted in self-defense was rejected, inter alia, on the basis of evidence that Israel’s action was premeditated and not an immediate response to rockets fired by militants and was, moreover, disproportionate. The IFFC found that the IDF’s own internal investigation into allegations of irregularities, which exonerated the IDF, was unconvincing because it was not conducted by an independent body and failed to consider Palestinian evidence.

The IFFC also examined the actions of Palestinian militants who fired rockets indiscriminately into southern Israel. We concluded that these actions constituted war crimes and that those responsible committed the war crimes of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the killing, wounding and terrorization of civilians.

The past twenty years have brought important developments in international law in respect to accountability for international crimes. Yet Israel has possibly secured impunity for itself by failing to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, its actions may still be judged by the court of public opinion.

A bold Obama speech on Gaza would have ensured that the public is on notice that it’s not business as usual in Washington. Even American allies, such as Israel, should have to answer evidence of serious international crimes. In this way, some measure of accountability may be achieved. With an active American push, a new view of the United States may begin to take shape after eight years of disregard for international and domestic law.

About John Dugard
John Dugard is a professor of law, a former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the chairman of the Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza. more…

UN Human Rights Council Blasts US for Killing Civilians, Drone Attacks and Using Mercenaries

June 10, 2009

The UN group is also calling on the US to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate crimes by US officials.

By Jeremy Scahill, RebelReports, June 10, 2009

The UN Human Rights Council has issued a report blasting the US for killing civilians, violating human rights and creating a “zone of impunity” for unaccountable private contractors to fight its wars. The UN group also criticized the US use of drones to attack Pakistan. The report, released this week was authored by Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

“First, the government has failed to track and make public the number of civilian casualties, or the conditions under which deaths occurred,” he said. “Second, the military justice system fails to provide ordinary people, including U.S. citizens and families of Iraqi and Afghan victims, basic information on the status of investigations into civilian casualties or prosecutions resulting therefrom.”

Alston called on the US to establish a national commission to investigate the killing of civilians and for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to criminally investigate government officials accused of crimes.

“The government has failed to effectively investigate and punish lower-ranking soldiers for such deaths, and has not held senior officers responsible,” Alston said. “Worse, it has effectively created a zone of impunity for private contractors and civilian intelligence agents by only rarely investigating and prosecuting them.”

On the issue of drone attacks, Alston said, “Targeted killings carried out by drone attacks on the territory of other states are increasingly common and remain deeply troubling… The U.S. government should disclose the legal basis for such killings and identify any safeguards designed to reduce collateral civilian casualties and ensure that the government has targeted the correct person.”

According to Reuters:

U.S. diplomat Lawrence Richter objected to Alston’s remarks, saying the U.N. investigator did not have the mandate to cover military and intelligence operations related to armed conflict.

Richter told the Human Rights Council that the United States has an extensive legal framework to respond to unlawful killings and is doing all it can to provide information about the deaths that occur in its armed conflicts.

Alston, who is an Australian law professor, visited the United States last year, before Obama became president.

Falk: Gaza offensive possible ‘war crime’

March 20, 2009
Al Jazeera, March 20, 2009

Falk said the Gaza border blocade trapping Gazans in a war zone may also be a crime against humanity

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories has said Israel’s military offensive on Gaza “would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law”.

Richard Falk calls the Israeli attacks a “massive assault on a densely populated urbanised setting”, with the civilian population subjected to “an inhumane form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm”.

His findings were written in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

Islamic and African countries backed by China, Cuba and Russia have a majority in the 47-member forum.

Neither Israel nor US, its principal ally, are members.

Falk said the Geneva Convention required forces at war to be able to distinguish between military targets and civilians.

If that is not possible, then “launching the attacks is inherently unlawful”.

Israel launched its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in December saying it aimed to stop rocket fire by Hamas into southern Israel.

A ceasefire was declared on January 18 after the offensive left 1,300 Palestinians dead, many of them women and children.

Three Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers were killed during the offensive.

Another crime

Falk said that the Gaza border blockade also was not legally justified and may represent a “crime against peace”, a principle established at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.

Sealing the border, denying people the right to flee the war zone as refugees, may also be a crime against humanity, his report said.

In video

Gaza family tells of Israeli shooting

Israeli soldiers say killing civilians ‘allowed’

He said Israel’s violations included alleged “targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances” during the offensive, and its use of weapons including white phosphorus, as well as Hamas firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.Falk called for an independent experts group to investigate possible war crimes committed by both the Israeli military and Hamas.

He recommended witness testimonies as well as explanations from Israeli and Palestinian military commanders.

Falk gave the same death toll from Israel’s offensive in December and January – 1,434 Palestinians, 960 of those civilians – as the Palestinian Human Rights Centre.

Israel disputes the figures and accuses Hamas fighters in Gaza of using civilians as human shields.

Falk said Israel’s allegation should be investigated.

Criminal tribunal urged

Falk suggested the UN Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability for war crimes in Gaza, noting Israel has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the International Criminal Court.

He was refused entry into Israel two weeks before the offensive started, preventing him from a planned mission to Gaza. In the report, he said the refusal had set an “unfortunate precedent” for treatment of a special rapporteur.

Israel dropped bombs on Gaza saying it wanted to halt rocket fire from Hamas [EPA]

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Santa Barbara, California, Falk said he is not optimistic that his report will lead to concrete action.”There is a lack of political will on the part of several major governments,” he said.

“There has all along been a pervasive double standard with respect to the implementation of international criminal law.

“It has been applied to non-Western countries in the south and has exempted actors associated with Europe, North America and, generally, the north.”

Falk’s criticism came as reports surfaced in the Israeli media suggesting that Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under what may have been lax rules of engagement during the Gaza offensive.

Property ransacked

Quoting Israeli soldiers who fought in the offensive, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday that soldiers had ransacked and destroyed civilian property.

The soldiers’ testimony, made at a course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon, runs counter to the Israeli army’s claims that troops observed a high level of moral behaviour during the operation.

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader in which he relates an incident where an Israeli sharpshooter shot a Palestinian mother and her two children, Haaretz reported.

If proved, the soldiers’ testimonies could contribute to war crimes charges against Israel.

Top U.N. Official Accuses U.S. of Inhuman ‘Atrocities’ in Iraq, Afghanistan

March 7, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A top U.N. official accused the United States of committing inhuman “atrocities” in Iraq and Afghanistan during a speech Wednesday to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The aggressions against Iraq and Afghanistan and their occupations constitute atrocities that must be condemned and repudiated by all who believe in the rule of law in international relations,” said U.N. General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.

Click here to see the speech.

D’Escoto claimed that U.S. actions have directly led to more than a million Iraqi civilian deaths since 2003, a vastly inflated figure that does not correspond with the U.N.’s own estimates.

The U.N.’s health and medical agency, the World Health Organization, says 151,000 Iraqis have died since the 2003 invasion. puts the death toll between 90,000- 99,245.

D’Escoto’s fiery speech came on the day the Obama administration decided to take up observer status on the Human Rights Council, which the Bush administration had boycotted because it was unable to crack down on despots and human rights abuses.

D’Escoto urged the Council to put the human rights situation in Iraq on its agenda, accusing the U.S. of war crimes and a series of human rights violations. “These must be addressed to bring an end to the scandalous present impunity,” he said.

He also called on the U.S. to free five Cuban nationals being held in U.S. prisons. The group was convicted in a Miami court in 2001 on a range of charges including lying about their identities, trying to obtain U.S. military secrets and spying on Cuban exile groups.

D’Escoto, once the foreign minister for the Communist Sandinista government of Nicaragua, called the five “heroes” being held in “preposterous conditions.”

D’Escoto said he was hopeful that the Obama administration would address his concerns and bring change to American policies concerning the imprisoned Cubans.

“The immediate ex-incarceration of the five Cuban heroes would help strengthen our confidence that the promised change is for real,” he said.

FOX News’ Ben Evansky contributed to this report.

UN Rights Council Condemns Israeli Offensive in Gaza

January 13, 2009

GENEVA – A divided UN Human Rights Council voted on Monday to condemn Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip and set up a probe into “grave” human rights violations by Israeli forces against the Palestinians.

[United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees hold a U.N. flag stained with red paint during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 12, 2009. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun/West Bank)]United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) employees hold a U.N. flag stained with red paint during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron against Israel’s offensive in Gaza January 12, 2009. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun/West Bank)

The resolution setting up a fact-finding mission was adopted despite the lack of Western support.Thirty-three African, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries voted for the resolution. Thirteen mainly European states abstained, while Canada was the only country to vote against.

The 47 member council — frequently critical of Israel in the past — normally seeks to adopt resolutions by consensus.

Western countries said the text put forward by Arab and African states was too biased and failed to clearly recognise the role that rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants played in triggering the offensive.

Last minute changes failed to overcome the differences after the special session on the violence in the Gaza Strip spilled into a second day.

The European Union’s representative said the EU could have supported some elements, but found the text too one-sided despite its concern about human rights violations in Gaza.

Israel also dismissed the resolution as biased and cast doubt on the Council’s credibility. The United States is not on the Council and steers clear of it.

The text released by the UN Council “strongly” condemned the Israeli military operation in Gaza, saying it had “resulted in massive violations” of the human rights of Palestinians.

With the toll surpassing 900, including nearly 400 women and children, according to Gaza medics, it called for “urgent international action” to halt “grave human rights violations by Israel”.

The draft resolution also called for an end to rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

But the key contents were four overlapping probes targeting Israel.

The resolution tasked 10 UN experts on human rights and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay with two separate probes into the violence.

It also set up an independent, international fact-finding mission to “investigate all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Israel”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was asked to investigate the bombing of UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip.

During the first day of the session on Friday, Pillay had warned that human rights violations in Gaza were extremely serious and some attacks that hit civilians and relief workers might warrant prosecutions for war crimes.

“Credible, independent and transparent” investigations were a first step towards ensuring accountability, she added on Friday, warning that “violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked.”

Julie de Rivero of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said lack of consensus and the resolution’s focus on Israel “undermined its credibility.”

Israel has refused to cooperate with similar fact-finding missions in the past, as well as a UN special rapporteur on the human rights of the Palestinians, complaining of bias because they fail to consider attacks on Israelis as well.

Israeli authorities last month detained and turned back the UN expert, Richard Falk, upon his arrival at Ben Gurion airport, accusing him of “legitimising Hamas terrorism.”

© 2009 AFP

Desmond Tutu: Israeli shelling in Gaza may be war crime

September 16, 2008

· Archbishop wants inquiry into Beit Hanoun attack
· 18 family members killed in ‘reckless’ artillery salvo

Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem|The Guardian,Tuesday September 16 2008

Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel laureate, said yesterday there was a “possibility” Israel had committed a war crime when 18 Palestinians from a single family were killed by Israeli artillery shells in Gaza two years ago.

Tutu said the Israeli attack, which hit the Athamna family house, showed “a disproportionate and reckless disregard for Palestinian civilian life”.

The archbishop presented his comments in a final report to the UN Human Rights Council, which had sent him to Gaza to investigate the killings in Beit Hanoun in November 2006. For 18 months Israel did not grant the archbishop or his team a visa. They entered Gaza in May this year on a rare crossing from Egypt.

On the three-day visit, Tutu and his team visited the house, interviewed the survivors and met others in Gaza, including the senior Hamas figure and former prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. At the time, Tutu said he wanted to travel to Israel to hear the Israeli account of events, but he was not permitted.

“In the absence of a well-founded explanation from the Israeli military – which is in sole possession of the relevant facts – the mission must conclude that there is a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime,” Tutu said in his report to the 47-member council.

Tutu also said that rockets fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israel should stop and should be investigated. “Those firing rockets on Israeli civilians are no less accountable than the Israeli military for their actions,” he said.

For the past three months a ceasefire between Israel and the militant groups in Gaza has been in place. It has significantly reduced the number of incidents and the death toll from the conflict there. Israel maintains a tough economic blockade on the territory, restricting imports and banning nearly all exports.

“It is not too late for an independent, impartial and transparent investigation of the shelling to be held,” Tutu said.

He said those responsible for firing the shells should be held accountable, whether the cause of the incident was a mistake or wilful.

After the incident, Israel’s military said the shelling into Beit Hanoun that day was a mistake and was the result of a “rare and severe failure in the artillery fire-control system” which created “incorrect range-findings”. It said the shells had been aimed 450 metres away from the edge of town. No legal action was taken against any officer. However, it is unclear why the artillery was fired so close to a residential area that morning and why shells continued to be fired after the first one hit the Athamna house.

Tutu also said he recommended that Israel pay adequate compensation to the victims “without delay”. His report said “reparation” should also be made to the town of Beit Hanoun itself, and suggested a memorial to the victims would also help the survivors. He suggested a physiotheraphy clinic as one possibility.

The survivors in the family remain bitter and most of the large extended family no longer live in the building. Since the shelling they have received no financial help, apart from a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority of £50 for each of the 18 dead.

Aharon Leshno-Yaar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council was meeting, rejected Tutu’s report as “another regrettable product of the Human Rights Council”.

“It is regrettable that this mission took place at all,” he added.

Leshno-Yaar said the report gave de facto legitimacy to Hamas, the Islamist movement that won elections in 2006 and then seized full control of Gaza last year. “This does not serve the interests of Israel or the Palestinians or the cause of peace,” he said.

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