Published on Thursday, July 20, 2006 by the New York Times
Attacks Qualify as War Crimes, Officials Say
by Warren Hoge
The United Nations’ top human rights official said Wednesday that the killing and maiming of civilians under attack in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza and the West Bank could constitute war crimes.
“The scale of killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control,” said Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights.
Ms. Arbour is a former justice of Canada’s Supreme Court who, as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, indicted the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
“International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,’’ she said. That same obligation exists, she added, in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,” she said in a statement released by her Geneva office. “Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged innocent civilians is unjustifiable.”
The Swiss-based International Red Cross, the recognized guardian of the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war, said Wednesday that Israel had violated the principle of proportionality provided for in the Conventions and their protocols.
It also noted that Hezbollah was firing rockets into northern Israel. “Hezbollah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, and they must not target civilian areas,” it said.
At the United Nations, there was support for the view that the only way to spare more victims was to halt the fighting, but there was also evidence that the United States would continue to dispute it.
“We think a truce is needed for humanitarian reasons,” said Jean-Marc de la Sablière, the ambassador of France, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council.
But John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, said the notion that a cease-fire would solve the problem was “simplistic.” “Among other things,” he said, “I want somebody to address the problem how you get a cease-fire with a terrorist organization.”
“This is a different kind of situation,” he added, “and I’m not sure that sort of old thinking, conventional thinking, works in a case like this.”
Mark Malloch Brown, the deputy secretary general, said that “on humanitarian grounds but also to enable ultimately a sustainable solution to this, one which allows Israel and its neighbors to live in peace with each other, continued conflict does not help.”
Secretary General Kofi Annan was returning to New York from Europe and was scheduled to brief the Council on Thursday on his call for a “cessation of hostilities” and a stabilization force for southern Lebanon.
“The need to bring this to a stop while we find a longer-term political and security solution is one that he will be stressing tomorrow in the Council,” Mr. Malloch Brown said.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company