UN Fact Finding Mission Finds Strong Evidence of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed During the Gaza Conflict; Calls for End to Impunity

For Immediate Release

UN - Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Contact: 

Doune Porter, Office of the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tel: 1-917-367-3292 or
+41-79-477-2576. Email: dporter@ohchr. org

UN Fact Finding Mission Finds Strong Evidence of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Committed During the Gaza Conflict; Calls for End to Impunity

NEW YORK/GENEVA - The UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard
Goldstone on Tuesday released its long-awaited report on the Gaza
conflict, in which it concluded there is evidence indicating serious
violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were
committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed
actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The report also concludes there is also evidence
that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, as well as possibly
crimes against humanity, in their repeated launching of rockets and
mortars into Southern Israel.

The four members of the Mission* were appointed by
the President of the Human Rights Council in April with a mandate to
"To investigate all violations of international human rights law and
international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any
time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in
Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009,
whether before, during or after."

In compiling the 574- page report, which contains
detailed analysis of 36 specific incidents in Gaza, as well as a number
of others in the West Bank and Israel, the Mission conducted 188
individual interviews, reviewed more 10,000 pages of documentation, and
viewed some 1,200 photographs, including satellite imagery, as well as
30 videos. The mission heard 38 testimonies during two separate public
hearings held in Gaza and Geneva, which were webcast in their entirety.
The decision to hear participants from Israel and the West Bank in
Geneva rather than in situ
was taken after Israel denied the Mission access to both locations.
Israel also failed to respond to a comprehensive list of questions
posed to it by the Mission. Palestinian authorities in both Gaza and
the West Bank cooperated with the Mission.

The Mission found that, in the lead up to the
Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting
to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of
progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the
Israeli military operation, code-named "Operation Cast Lead," houses,
factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public
buildings were destroyed. Families are still
living amid the rubble of their former homes long
after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to
the continuing blockade. More than 1,400 people were killed during the
military operation.

Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term,
has been suffered by the population of Gaza. The Report notes signs of
profound depression, insomnia and effects such as bed-wetting among
children. The effects on children who witnessed killings and violence,
who had thought they were facing death, and who lost family members
would be long lasting, the Mission found, noting in its Report that
some 30 per cent of children screened at UNRWA schools suffered mental
health problems.

The report concludes that the Israeli military
operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance
of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza
population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed
at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply
installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and
residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy
which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more
difficult for the civilian population.

The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence,
employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and
their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their
rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, could lead a
competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against
humanity, has been committed.

The report underlines that in most of the incidents
investigated by it, and described in the report, loss of life and
destruction caused by Israeli forces during the military operation was
a result of disrespect for the fundamental principle of "distinction"
in international humanitarian law that requires military forces to
distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects
at all times. The report states that "Taking into account the ability
to plan, the means to execute plans with the most developed technology
available, and statements by the Israeli military that almost no errors
occurred, the Mission finds that the incidents and patterns of events
considered in the report are the result of deliberate planning and
policy decisions."

For example, Chapter XI of the report describes a
number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched "direct
attacks against civilians with lethal outcome." These are, it says,
cases in which the facts indicate no justifiable military objective
pursued by the attack and concludes they amount to war crimes. The
incidents described include:
Attacks in the Samouni neighbourhood, in Zeitoun,
south of Gaza City, including the shelling of a house where soldiers
had forced Palestinian civilians to assemble;
Seven incidents concerning "the shooting of
civilians while they were trying to leave their homes to walk to a
safer place, waving white flags and, in some of the cases, following an
injunction from the Israeli forces to do so;"
The targeting of a mosque at prayer time, resulting in the death of 15 people.

A number of other incidents the Report concludes may
constitute war crimes include a direct and intentional attack on the Al
Quds Hospital and an adjacent ambulance depot in Gaza City.

The Report also covers violations arising from
Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, including excessive
force against Palestinian demonstrators, sometimes resulting in deaths,
increased closures, restriction of movement and house demolitions. The
detention of Palestinian Legislative Council members, the Report says,
effectively paralyzed political life in the OPT.

The Mission found that through activities such as
the interrogation of political activists and repression of criticism of
its military actions, the Israeli Government contributed significantly
to a political climate in which dissent was not tolerated.

The Fact-Finding Mission also found that the
repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by
Palestinian armed groups "constitute war crimes and may amount to
crimes against humanity," by failing to distinguish between military
targets and the civilian population. "The launching of rockets and
mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at military
targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction," the report
says. "Where there is no intended military target and the rockets and
mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a deliberate
attack against the civilian population."

The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars
attacks "have caused terror in the affected communities of southern
Israel," as well as "loss of life and physical and mental injury to
civilians and damage to private houses, religious buildings and
property, thereby eroding the economic and cultural life of the
affected communities and severely affecting the economic and social
rights of the population."

The Mission urges the Palestinian armed groups
holding the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to release him on humanitarian
grounds, and, pending his release, give him the full rights accorded to
a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions including visits from
the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Report also notes
serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and
extra-judicial executions of Palestinians, by the authorities in Gaza
and by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The prolonged situation of impunity has created a
justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants
action, the Report says. The Mission found the Government of Israel had
not carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations. It
recommended that the UN Security Council require Israel to report to
it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should
carry out with regard to the violations identified in its Report. The
Mission further recommends that the Security Council set up a body of
independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli
investigations and prosecutions. If the experts' reports do not
indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are
taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza
to the ICC Prosecutor. The Mission recommends that the same independent
expert body also report to the Security Council on proceedings
undertaken by the relevant Gaza authorities with regard to crimes
committed by the Palestinian side. As in the case of Israel, if within
six months there are no good faith independent proceedings conforming
to international standards in place, the Council should refer the
situation to the ICC Prosecutor.

The full report can be found on the web page of the Fact Finding Mission:
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm

 

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