Israel: Full, Impartial Investigation of Flotilla Killings Essential

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Israel: Full, Impartial Investigation of Flotilla Killings Essential

NEW YORK - Israel should promptly conduct a credible and impartial
investigation into the deaths of at least 10 activists after Israeli
security forces boarded ships that were part of an “aid flotilla” to
Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the incident, in which dozens of
activists and several Israeli commandos were also reportedly wounded,
raises grave concerns about possible unlawful and excessive use of
lethal force.

“A prompt, credible, and impartial investigation is absolutely
essential to determine whether the lethal force used by Israeli
commandos was necessary to protect lives and whether it could have been
avoided,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights
Watch. “Given Israel's poor track record of investigating unlawful
killings by its armed forces, the international community should
closely monitor any inquiry to ensure it meets basic international
standards and that any wrongdoers are brought to justice.”

According to reports, at 4 a.m. on May 31, Israeli commandos boarded
ships of the aid flotilla. Approximately 700 activists were taking part
in the 6-ship flotilla. The flotilla’s organizers said it was carrying
humanitarian aid intended for Gaza, including cement, wheelchairs, and
parts to repair water infrastructure. The activists said the ships were
70 nautical miles offshore when Israeli forces boarded the ships.

The Israeli government stated that activists on the ships violently
resisted Israeli boarding forces, seriously wounding two soldiers.
Activists aboard the ships stated that Israeli forces killed unarmed
members of the humanitarian aid flotilla. Human Rights Watch has not
yet been able to conduct its own investigation to determine which
account is accurate. The government had warned the flotilla not to
attempt to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

“The Israeli government’s opposition to the flotilla initiative was
well advertised, but does not address the main issues – did Israeli
forces use unlawful lethal force aboard the ships, and could
alternative steps have been taken that would have avoided the
violence,” Whitson said.

Human Rights Watch called on Israel to grant all detained and
injured flotilla members immediate access to counsel and their
families, and to disclose the identities of all those injured and
killed. According to the flotilla’s organizers, Israeli authorities
have denied those detained in Ashdod port access to their lawyers, and
have yet to disclose where the injured have been hospitalized. All
communications from the flotilla and flotilla members have apparently
been blocked, and the names of those killed have not been released.

Israel has blockaded Gaza's land and sea borders since Hamas seized
control of the territory in June 2007. Egypt has been an essential
partner in the blockade along Gaza’s southern border. The blockade,
which amounts to the unlawful collective punishment of Gaza's civilian
population, has severely damaged the economy, leaving 70 to 80 percent
of Gazans in poverty and dependent on humanitarian aid.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms
by Law Enforcement Officials provide that authorities shall, as far as
possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force
and firearms. The Principles provide that if the lawful use of force
and firearms is unavoidable, then the authorities must use restraint
and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Lethal force
may be used only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. The Basic
Principles also call for an effective reporting and review process,
especially in cases of death and serious injury.

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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