UNITED NATIONS - A prominent human rights group says a U.N. report that probed
Israeli attacks on a Palestinian refugee camp is a failure because it did not
examine the lawfulness of the soldiers' actions.
New York-based Human Rights Watch
(HRW) described the report on the April incursions into the Jenin camp by Israeli
Defense Forces (IDF), released Thursday, as "disappointing".
The group released its own 50-page report on the attack in May.
"It is not a report the United Nations can be proud of," Peter Bouckaert of HRW told IPS.
"We are very disappointed with the report because it doesn't make any factual determination of what happened in Jenin."
The Palestinian Authority claims that more than 500 people were killed in
the Israeli military attack. But the U.N. report says that only 52 Palestinians
were killed, of whom up to half may have been civilians, while the number of Israeli
soldiers killed was about 23.
The report was prepared on a request made by the 189-member General Assembly following Israel's refusal to permit a U.N. fact-finding team to investigate the "massacre" in the camp.
The study criticizes the IDF's killing of civilians, the arbitrary arrests and detention of Palestinians, the use of civilians as human shields and the "disproportionate and indiscriminate destruction" of property by Israeli troops.
But Bouckaert says it does not go far enough. In its May report, HRW found that "Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, some amounting prima facie to war crimes".
"Establishing whether this extensive destruction so exceeded military necessity as to constitute wanton destruction - or a war crime - should be one of the highest priorities for the United Nations fact-finding mission," it said.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitted
the limitations of the report. "It is not an on-the-spot investigation. But we
built on reports available in the public domain."
The Secretary-General said, "while some of the facts may be in dispute, I think it is clear that the Palestinian population have suffered and are suffering, the humanitarian consequences of which are severe".
While the Palestinians cooperated with the U.N. team, the Israelis refused. The Israelis also blocked the team from visiting the Jenin refugee camp and also the occupied territories.
In his report, Annan admitted that a full and comprehensive assessment of the events in Jenin could not be made without the full cooperation of both parties (the Israelis and Palestinians) and visits to the area.
"I would, therefore, not wish to go beyond the very limited findings of fact which are set out in the body of the text," he said.
"I am nevertheless confident that the picture painted in this report is a fair representation of a complex reality," he added.
The study also blames armed Palestinian groups who are alleged to have booby-trapped civilian homes - "acts which targeted Israeli military personnel, but also placed civilians in danger".
Bouckaert says the document "effectively lets the Israelis off the hook", pointing out that the United Nations does not use the word "unlawful" in the report, nor does it refer to the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war.
The document also lacks legal analysis of the serious abuses that took place in Jenin. Even if the Israelis refused to cooperate, that should not have prevented the U.N. from reaching conclusions, he adds.
Clearly, said Bouckaert, the Israelis had committed "war crimes" in Jenin. "And there were deliberate killings of civilians."
"If Israel claims to be a democracy, it has a duty to prosecute soldiers who were responsible for the crimes committed," he added.
The U.N. report attributes some of the deaths to Israeli attacks on ambulances and denial of humanitarian access. It cites at least three instances where Israeli military forces attacked ambulances taking the injured to hospitals.
Many of the reports of human rights groups contain accounts of wounded civilians waiting days to reach medical assistance, and being refused medical treatment by Israeli soldiers, the report said.
Speaking of the "overall impact", the report said that the civilian population in the occupied territories continues to "suffer severe hardships, many of which have sharply intensified since the events covered in the report".
There has been a near-complete cessation of manufacturing, construction, commerce, and private and public services in the main West Bank centers, exacerbating the severe decline in living standards over the last 18 months.
Since the Palestinian uprising began in Sep. 2000, the violence in the occupied territories has taken a heavy death toll: more than 1,539 Palestinians killed along with 441 Israelis.
"The events described in this report, the continuing deterioration of the
situation and the ongoing cycle of violence in my view demonstrate the urgent
need for the parties to resume a process that would lead back to the negotiating
table," said Annan.
Copyright 2002 IPS