Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Human Rights Watch: International Investigation in Gaza "Essential"

Human Rights Watch, NY, press release, January 27, 2009 - An impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war by Israel and Hamas during the recent fighting in Gaza is essential to establish key facts and to recommend mechanisms for holding violators accountable and providing compensation to victims, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch renewed its call for establishment of an independent, international commission of inquiry and said that the UN Security Council or UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should urgently take the necessary steps to achieve this.

"The Security Council and the secretary-general should both work to establish an independent investigation into alleged violations by both sides," said Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "Since Human Rights Watch first made this call, our on-the-ground investigations have shown that the need for such a comprehensive inquiry is all the more apparent and pressing."

On January 12, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted to dispatch an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel, but not alleged violations by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. Leading UN officials have called for an investigation specifically into Israeli attacks on UN schools and headquarters in Gaza. Israeli officials have said that the government will investigate these attacks as well as certain other alleged violations, such as the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas.

Human Rights Watch said that Israel's poor record of investigating and prosecuting serious violations by its forces, and the absence of any such effort by Hamas or other Palestinian groups, makes it essential that an inquiry be an independent international effort....

Human Rights Watch called on all members of the Security Council to support the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry with the greatest possible expertise and authority and with a mandate to address serious violations by all parties to the conflict. In the absence of such action, Secretary-General Ban should immediately take the initiative to establish such an inquiry, Human Rights Watch said...

Human Rights Watch noted that Israel's refusal to allow independent journalists and human rights monitors into Gaza during the fighting makes it all the more crucial to have an investigation conducted by independent experts willing and able to interview victims and witnesses and collect physical evidence, as well as to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Human Rights Watch is currently in Gaza investigating allegations of serious violations of the laws of war, including:

  • Indiscriminate use of weapons such as heavy artillery in densely populated areas;
  • Using civilians as human shields or otherwise placing civilians at unnecessary risk;
  • Firing on or otherwise preventing ambulances and emergency medical care from reaching persons in need;
  • Firing rockets deliberately or indiscriminately into residential areas;
  • Targeting persons seeking to communicate their civilian status with white flags; and
  • Targeting presumptively civilian installations such as police stations and government offices that were not legitimate military targets.

"The parties to the Gaza conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war," Stork said. "The victims deserve nothing less than a legitimate and comprehensive impartial investigation that leads to full accountability and redress."

States have an obligation to investigate serious violations of the laws of war. When committed with criminal intent, such violations are war crimes. Where there is evidence that a war crime may have been committed, a state has an obligation to investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects. Non-state armed groups should take appropriate disciplinary and judicial measures against members of their forces who commit laws-of-war violations....

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