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Human Rights Council considers two major reports on the Gaza conflict

The Human Rights Council at its Special Session in January requested that the UN Human Rights Chief report regularly on the “Grave Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly Due to the Recent Israeli Military Attacks against the Occupied Gaza Strip”. The Special Session of the Council was convened in response to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. This first report from the High Commissioner has as its main focus the impact of the conflict on civilians and respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all the parties involved.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay © UN Photo/Jean-Marc FERREIn her presentation to the Council, High Commissioner Pillay urged an end to the impunity for human rights violations. She said the international community must ensure that any solution to the impasse is anchored “in international law, in particular international human rights and humanitarian law, including the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.”

The High Commissioner’s report notes significant prima facie evidence of gross violations of international human rights law and serious breaches of international humanitarian law by both Israel and Hamas during the military operations. It recommends that all allegations of breaches – whether through attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza or indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel – be thoroughly investigated by credible, independent and transparent accountability mechanisms. Pillay also regards the right of victims to reparation as equally crucial.

In her statement to the Council the High Commissioner said conditions on the ground in Gaza continue to deteriorate. “With very few exceptions, Gaza’s one point five million inhabitants are trapped. They cannot exit the 45 kilometre long strip.” Specifically, Pillay referred to; “the almost unbearable curtailment of Gazans’ right to work, their right to access to water, food, adequate housing and education, and their entitlement to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. These conditions impair the life and dignity of the people of Gaza.”

The second report before the Council also follows from January’s Special Session. Justice Richard Goldstone led the UN Fact Finding Mission in Gaza after the Council resolved “to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission… to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law”.

Justice Richard Goldstone, Head UN Fact Finding Mission © UN Photo/Jean-Marc FERREIn his statement to the Human Rights Council, Justice Goldstone noted that the Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens. However, he said, “That in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead. This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future.”

The Mission reported evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The Mission reported too that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into southern Israel.

“The teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other,” Justice Goldstone told the Council, “contributes to the destabilization of the whole region.”

The Fact Finding Mission has recommended that the Security Council require Israel to report to it within six months, on the investigations and prosecutions it is carrying out to address the violations described in the Report. It recommends too, that the Security Council establish a committee of experts to report on the progress of investigations and prosecutions by both Israel and the relevant authorities in Gaza.

“The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point,” Justice Goldstone told the Council. “The ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence.” 

The High Commissioner said Justice Goldstone’s report and recommendations have her full support; “The prevailing impunity for human rights violations in the Middle East conflict must end.

“Such impunity encourages and engenders the perpetuation of abuse. Bringing perpetrators to account is not only necessary to ensure justice and protection to the affected populations, but also to enhance prospects of peace in the region.”

29 September 2009