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Gaza: Israel and Hamas have less than one month to show credible investigations into war crimes

Israel and Hamas have less than one month to show real progress in bringing to account those who perpetrated war crimes during the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel one year ago, Amnesty International warned on Monday ahead of a February deadline set by the UN.

In November 2009, the UN General Assembly gave Israel and Hamas until 2 February to show that they are willing and able to undertake investigations that meet international standards into alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January 2009.

"The clock is running – if both sides cannot provide real evidence that they are taking steps to put their houses in order, the international community will need to take measures to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account, and that the victims receive full reparation, including compensation," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

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Should investigations fail to meet required standards, it is the responsibility of the international community to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice, including by the Security Council referring the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"It would be far better if Israel and Hamas meet their own obligations to ensure accountability for serious crimes under international law, rather than creating a need to be referred to the ICC," said Malcolm Smart.

"The US and European governments who are protective of Israel, along with the Arab governments who have influence over Hamas, should urge the respective parties to meet their obligations while making it clear that the international community will step in if they continue to evade responsibility."

Following the publication of the UN-commissioned report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone into war crimes and other serious violations, including possible crimes against humanity, committed during the 2009 conflict, Amnesty International sent both the Israeli authorities and Hamas a document setting out the criteria for credible and independent domestic investigations that conform to international standards.

Any investigations carried out by Israel and Hamas must be assessed against such criteria – including the need for the investigating body to be impartial, competent, expert and independent – and to have access to all relevant sources of information.

The UN Fact Finding Mission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone found evidence that both sides had committed war crimes and other serious violations of international law.. So far, neither side has shown a willingness to conduct credible investigations.

"The only investigations to have been carried out since the violence of one year ago have been by the Israeli military into the behavior of their own forces. Unfortunately these do not meet the international standards stipulated by the UN General Assembly and they have taken place behind closed doors," said Malcolm Smart. "For the investigations to have any credibility, they must be impartial, independent, thorough and transparent."

More than 300 Children's rights were among the hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed by indiscriminate Israeli attacks in Gaza. Three Israeli civilians were killed by rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas, in violation of international law.

Investigations conducted by Israel to date have failed to meet many of the essential standards. Those responsible for the limited investigations that have taken place are officers in the military – the same institution whose actions are being examined. The process is also opaque: it is unknown which cases have been opened and which have been closed, and on the basis of what assessments. No prosecutions for violations of international law have been initiated. The only indication of the results is the declaration by the Israeli army that most allegations of serious violations of international law are baseless and that the rest can be put down to operational mistakes.

Hamas, for its part, has not shown any serious inclination to set up an investigation. The de facto Hamas administration in Gaza has stopped firing indiscriminate rockets into civilian areas in southern Israel but only as a temporary measure and without renouncing the practice which Judge Goldstone declared to be a war crime.

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