Council fails to heed calls by NGOs to step up investigations into Gaza conflict
Friday, 01 October 2010 16:01


Despite repeated calls by many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Human Rights Council (the Council) has chosen to not refer the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that occurred in the context of the Israeli military operations in Gaza in late 2008 (‘operation cast lead’) to the General Assembly, the Security Council and the International Criminal Court. Instead, it decided to extend the mandate of the Committee of Independent Experts to continue to monitor progress of domestic investigations into the violations committed by both sides of the conflict.


On 27 September, the Council held an interactive dialogue on the report of the ‘Committee of Independent Experts’ under item 7, situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Committee was set up through Resolution 13/9 to examine the investigations undertaken by the Israeli Government and Palestine in response to allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law as contained in the report of the Fact-Finding Mission headed by Judge Goldstone. The Committee is composed of Mr Christian Tomuschat, former member of the UN Human Rights Committee and the International Law Commission, Judge Mary McGowan Davis, former Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York and former federal prosecutor, and Mr Param Cumaraswamy who served as Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the former Commission on Human Rights.


States that took the floor during the interactive dialogue made few proposals regarding next steps for the Council. This was reflected in the resolution adopted by the Council on 29 September, which simply renews the mandate of the Committee. NGOs participating in the debate made much more concrete suggestions. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian and Refugee Rights, and Amnesty International were not only critical of the Israeli investigations but also that of the Palestinian Authority. They pointed to Palestine’s failure to meet international standards for investigations. Several NGOs suggested the Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, through the General Assembly and the Security Council.


During the interactive dialogue, the Chair of the Committee, Mr Tomuschat, explained that the Committee had evaluated the investigations based on the criteria of independence, impartiality, thoroughness, promptness, effectiveness, and transparency. It expressed disappointment with the Israeli Government’s complete refusal to cooperate with the Committee, while commending the Palestinian Authority for its cooperation. The refusal to cooperate meant that the Committee was unable to visit Israel, the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. Several States, including Brazil, Malaysia and Switzerland regretted the uncooperative attitude of Israel.


Despite the limited information therefore available to the Committee, it was critical of Israel’s investigations as falling far below international standards. The Committee was appreciative of the efforts of the Palestinian Authority to carry out investigations, and very critical of the limited investigations carried out by the ‘de-facto authority of the Gaza strip’.


The interactive dialogue was marked by the predictable divide between States supporting Israel and States supporting the Palestinian side. Only few States attempted to take a more balanced position. Israel strongly criticised the Committee, its report and the Council as a whole as being biased, calling for the end of the mandate. Additionally, it addressed the Committee’s concern that Israel had abstained from conducting investigations at the highest levels about the design and implementation of the Gaza military operations. Israel reiterated that the Turkel Commission was suitable to address that concern. That Commission was charged with examining whether the mechanism for investigating complaints of violations of the laws of armed conflict conform with the obligations of Israel under international law.


The United States strongly supported Israel’s position. It reminded the Council of its opposition to the creation of the Committee, as it believed the Goldstone report was deeply flawed. The US did show appreciation for the Palestinian Authority’s efforts but repeated that it considers Hamas a terrorist organisation. In pushing for the end of the mandate, the US pointed out that the Committee had not recommended any further UN action.


Palestine, in turn, strongly supported an extension of the mandate and was backed by Syria (on behalf of the Arab Group), Pakistan (on behalf of OIC), Egypt (on behalf of NAM), China, Iran, and Turkey. Other States presented a middle ground position. The EU commended the efforts of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but encouraged Israel to engage with the UN agencies including sharing of relevant information. Furthermore, the EU expressed concern with the timing of the Palestinian Authority’s investigations. Additionally, Switzerland conveyed disappointment with Israel’s unwillingness to cooperate with the Committee, labelling Israel’s progress as mere ‘half-measures.’

Last Updated on Friday, 01 October 2010 16:23
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