Gaza/Israel: Full cooperation with new United Nations inquiry urged

Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides must fully cooperate with the UN’s fact-finding mission looking into possible war crimes and international law violations committed during the recent conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Programme Director Malcolm Smart said:

"The victims of this brutal conflict have a right to justice and reparation. The perpetrators on both sides must be held accountable if there is to be an end to the cycles of violence and impunity that have persisted for so long. There must be no excuse for either Israel or the Palestinians not to fully cooperate with the inquiry.”

The newly appointed Chair, Justice Richard J Goldstone, and the President of the Human Rights Council recently acknowledged that the mission can only credibly fulfil its mandate by also examining the violations of international law committed by Palestinian armed groups.

Malcolm Smart added:

“By expressly acknowledging the need to investigate the alleged violations committed by all parties to the conflict, Richard Goldstone and the president of the UN Human Rights Council have underscored the mission’s independence and greatly enhanced its credibility.

“Only an authoritative, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of war crimes and other violations of international law committed by all sides can end the cycle of impunity and contribute to peace and security in the Middle East.

“The victims have been badly let down by the UN Security Council’s failure to take any concrete steps to establish accountability for the grave violations of international law, including war crimes, that were committed by both sides during the conflict.”

Having failed to set up an inquiry itself, the UN Security Council must now insist that all parties fully cooperate with the international fact-finding mission, Amnesty International said, adding that no party must be allowed to undermine the investigation.

In addition, Amnesty said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must ensure that the report of the Board of Inquiry looking into Israeli attacks on UN staff and facilities in Gaza, due to be submitted to him today, is promptly transmitted to the UN Security Council and that its findings and recommendations are made public.

The UN Board of Inquiry was established by the UN Secretary-General on 12 February 2009, with limited terms of reference to investigate attacks on UN personnel and buildings in Gaza.

The independent international fact-finding mission, whose members have now been appointed, was created by the UN Human Rights Council at its ninth special session on 12 January 2009. Its mandate was to investigate alleged violations of international law by Israeli forces, but it failed to mention those by the other side.

During the Israeli military campaign “Cast Lead”, between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 Children's rights and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and injured some 5,000 Palestinians, many of them maimed for life. Thousands of homes and much of Gaza’s economic infrastructure were destroyed by Israeli forces. Victims who were burned by “white phosphorus” fired by Israeli forces into residential areas are still dying. The latest to die last week was Ghada Abu Halima, who was burned by white phosphorus on 4 January in her home in the northern Gaza strip, in an attack that also killed her father-in-law and four Children's rights from the family and injured several other relatives.

In the same period Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched a barrage of indiscriminate rockets into towns and villages in the south of Israel, killing three Israeli civilians and injuring dozens of others, and destroying or damaging several houses.

Last month Israeli soldiers who took part in operation “Cast Lead” revealed that some Israel soldiers had willfully or recklessly killed unarmed Palestinian civilians and wantonly destroyed property. The allegations were quickly dismissed by the Israeli Military General Attorney after a seemingly cursory inquiry, while ongoing investigations by Amnesty International, and Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups uncovered evidence that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed serious violations of international law, including possible war crimes. These include direct, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, the targeting of medical personnel and the denial of access to medical care for the wounded, the use of indiscriminate weapons such as white phosphorus and artillery, in heavily-built up civilian areas, and the use of human shields and wanton destruction of property.

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