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Goldstone: Israel's 'cynical' efforts to avoid accountability for Gaza war crimes must be rejected

Recent Israeli government calls for the UN to retract the 2009 report of its Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict are a cynical attempt to avoid accountability for war crimes and deny both Palestinian and Israeli victims of the 2008-2009 conflict the justice and reparations they deserve, Amnesty International has said today.

Statements by leading Israeli politicians that Israel’s conduct in the 22-day conflict in Gaza and southern Israel has been vindicated following a Washington Post article by Justice Richard Goldstone, are based on a deliberate misinterpretation of Justice Goldstone’s comments. Amnesty insists that the international community must firmly reject these attempts to escape accountability and act decisively for international justice, as it has done on Libya, Sudan and other situations where war crimes and possible crimes against humanity have been committed.

The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, composed of Justice Goldstone and three other eminent international jurists, examined violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law committed by all sides during the conflict. Its September 2009 report echoed the findings documented by Amnesty, other human rights organisations and independent observers, and called on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to conduct credible, independent investigations into alleged war crimes and possible crimes against humanity within six months or face potential UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The report’s recommendations concerning potential international justice mechanisms remain unimplemented more than 18 months later, despite the fact that the Israeli authorities and Hamas de facto administration have both failed to conduct investigations that are prompt, thorough, independent, impartial, and effective, as required by the UN General Assembly.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and other senior Israeli politicians have seized on Justice Goldstone’s new statement that the Israeli military did not intentionally target civilians during the conflict and has conducted some investigations to call for the entire Fact-Finding Mission’s report to be retracted - or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu put it, “tossed into history’s trash can”. The US government has supported this position, with a spokesperson saying the US did not see any evidence that the Israeli government had committed war crimes during the conflict.

However, as a spokesperson for the Human Rights Council has made clear, comments made in an opinion piece article do not provide a sufficient legal basis for overturning a UN report that has been discussed and endorsed by both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. Nor are the self-serving calls of Israeli political leaders, some of whom were members of the Israeli war cabinet which made the policy decisions during Operation “Cast Lead”, the 22-day conflict in which some 1,400 Palestinians, including some 300 Children's rights, were killed by Israeli forces.

Amnesty insists that aborting the process towards an international justice solution would also preclude any possibility of justice or reparations for Israeli victims of the conflict, who suffered from hundreds of indiscriminate rockets and mortars launched into southern Israel by Hamas’ military wing and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.

Amnesty has monitored and critiqued the Israeli military investigations into its actions during “Cast Lead”, and has condemned both the continuing failure of the Hamas authorities to investigate alleged violations committed by Palestinian armed groups during the conflict and the ongoing firing of indiscriminate rockets into southern Israel.

In consequence of the failure of both the Israeli and Palestinian sides to conduct proper independent investigations and ensure accountability and justice for the victims, Amnesty has called on a range of international bodies to bring international justice mechanisms to bear in order to meet these objectives and end impunity. In particular, Amnesty has called on the UN General Assembly to consider the Fact-Finding Mission’s report at its 66th session starting in September 2011, and submit the report to the UN Security Council with a recommendation that it consider referring the situation to the Prosecutor of the ICC. This recommendation was also included in a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council on 25 March. Disappointingly, the UK voted against the 25 March resolution.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“It was extremely disappointing to see the UK voting against referral of the Gaza situation to the International Criminal Court, in marked contrast to its recent stance on Libya.

“At the UN General assembly in September we’d like to see the UK standing up for international justice by voting in favour of the Gaza situation being referred to the ICC. The people of Gaza and southern Israel deserve justice and this is one of the most effective means to achieve it.”

Amnesty has also urged the ICC Prosecutor to seek a legal determination from the Pre-Trial Chamber on whether an investigation could be launched on the basis of a 2009 declaration by the Palestinian Authority accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Palestinian territories. Finally, Amnesty has consistently called for national authorities of other states to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, just as Amnesty urges states to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes in other conflicts where the domestic authorities are unwilling or unable to act.

Notes to editors

Issues of impunity and the denial of rights in the Israel-Palestinian context will be explored at two upcoming Amnesty International UK events at its east London office:

Tue 12 April: a discussion (“Deliberate Discrimination, Deliberate Deprivation”)   event on the economic and social impact of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory:

Thu 14 April: a screening of the “War Child” documentary examining the effects of the Gaza conflict on Children's rights living in the Gaza Strip:

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