GENEVA - The United Nations Human Rights Council issued a strongly worded condemnation of Israel Friday for violating human rights and international humanitarian law in its military operations in Lebanon.
The highest U.N. human rights body, which held a special session Friday to discuss the conflict in the Middle East, also decided to send a high-level commission to the area to investigate "systematic targeting and killing" of Lebanese civilians by Israel.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 27:11, with eight abstentions. The delegation from Djibouti was absent during the voting. European Union members of the Council, as well as Canada, Japan, Romania and the Ukraine voted against the initiative.
The new 47-member Council demanded that Israel strictly comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law, which regulates treatment of the injured, prisoners and non-combatants during armed conflicts.
However, the Council introduced a last-minute amendment to the draft resolution sponsored by Muslim countries as well as China, Cuba and Russia. The clause calls on all parties involved to respect humanitarian law and refrain from using violence against civilians.
That was the resolution's only allusion to the Lebanese Shiite militia group Hezbollah, which is fighting the Israeli troops that have invaded southern Lebanon while launching missile attacks on civilian populations in northern Israel.
The rest of the resolution condemns Israeli military actions, such as the "massive bombardment" of civilian populations in Qana, Maruain, Al Dueir, Al Qaa, Chiyah, Ghazieh and other towns in Lebanon.
The Council said the attacks had "caused thousands of deaths and injuries, mostly among children and women, and the displacement of one million civilians."
The inquiry commission is "to investigate the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon; to examine the types of weapons used by Israel and their conformity with international law; (and) to assess the extent and deadly impact of Israeli attacks on human life, property, critical infrastructure and the environment."
The mission, to be made up of U.N. special rapporteurs on human rights and experts on international humanitarian law, will cost some 420,000 dollars, officials with the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated.
The Council, which was created in March and held its first session Jun. 19-30, was put to the test this week with the debate on the conflict in the Middle East, one of the most controversial issues in the field of human rights.
Western countries routinely criticised the Council's predecessor, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which became defunct last June, for its "imbalanced" resolutions that condemned Israel.
On this occasion, the debate in the brand-new Council followed similar lines, with a resolution that focused its criticism on Israel. For that reason, European members of the Council and other Western countries rejected the resolution, which was proposed by the 57-country Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
The delegation from Finland stated on behalf of the EU and Romania that the resolution did not go far enough, because it only referred to the concerns of one of the parties to the conflict.
The French delegation said it deeply regretted that the resolution was not adopted by consensus, and rejected it because it was "unilateral," in terms of its content as well as in the way it was drafted.
Switzerland worked hard to the very last to achieve an understanding between all of the members. When it failed in its efforts for a consensus, it decided to abstain from voting.
Eric Sottas, director of the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), said that during times of war, the search for a consensus was in vain.
He added, however, that "the Council's duty is to play a new role that would allow the achievement of concrete results".
"To do so, it is necessary to avoid the rhetoric and unbalanced resolutions void of follow-up that discredited the Human Rights Commission, all the while embracing its specificity, which is to ensure the respect of human rights and, in case of conflict, the full rigour of humanitarian law by all parties," he maintained.
But Iranian representative Alireza Moaiyyeri said there was no place for any debate other than a call by the U.N. Human Rights Council for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and an international investigation into the continued killings by Israel in Lebanon.
Israeli delegate Itzhak Levanon said the discussions were one-sided, and asked why there are no calls for investigations into "the atrocities committed by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran."
A representative of the World Jewish Congress, Lior Herman, said "Judaism, like Islam, is premised on the sanctity of human life and human dignity, principles that also apply to the one million Israelis living in bomb shelters to avoid the thousands of Hezbollah rockets designed to maximise civilian casualties, and to the 85 innocents murdered in the Hezbollah attack on Argentina's Jewish community headquarters in Buenos Aires 12 years ago this summer."
The five Latin American countries that voted in favour of the resolution -- Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay -- called on Israel and Hezbollah to refrain from the use of force and to guarantee safeguards for civilians. The remaining Latin American member of the Council, Guatemala, abstained from voting.
© Copyright 2006 IPS - Inter Press Service