Sunday, January 25, 2009

Focus: War Crimes - an Analysis

Al Jazeera English, January 22, 2009 - As the UN and human rights groups demand independent investigations into the conduct of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, the world’s attention is focusing on whether Israeli or Hamas officials could face prosecution for war crimes.

Whatever the inquiries find, bringing suspected war criminals to court will be far from straightforward.

There is a world of difference between establishing that war crimes have been committed, and then holding those responsible to account, says Mark S Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association (IBA).

"Often, people view these as the same, but they are not under international law. There is a gap ... regarding the issue of accountability," Ellis says.

Even if independent inquiries do establish that gross violations of the laws of armed conflict have taken place during the war in Gaza, the mechanisms to ensure those responsible on either side are brought to justice "simply don’t exist".

Four options

There are four main options open to states, groups or individuals seeking to launch legal proceedings against suspects should investigators find war crimes have been committed during the 22-day assault on the Strip, Ellis says.

All four routes are fraught with complexities, particularly in relation to the Gaza conflict....

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