Amnesty International Criticizes the Israel Gaza Commission over Transparency and Accountability

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Amnesty International Criticizes the Israel Gaza Commission over Transparency and Accountability

WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON - Amnesty International today
criticized Israel’s proposed investigation into its military action
against
a Gaza aid flotilla on May 31 as lacking in transparency and unlikely to
ensure accountability over the nine deaths of activists during the
operation.

The Israeli cabinet approved a three-man Israeli commission, with two
international
observers, to examine Israel’s military action off the Gaza coast in
which
nine international activists were killed by Israeli forces.

“The format of this government-appointed Commission represents a
disappointment
and a missed opportunity,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s
director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Commission looks to
be neither independent nor sufficiently transparent, the two
international
observers may be denied access to crucial information, and the
Commission’s
findings may not be used in future prosecutions.”  

The Commission will not have access to members of the Israeli military
who were involved in the planning and implementation of the military
action,
except for the Chief of Staff, and there is nothing to indicate that its
findings or recommendations will be binding.

The Commission will be chaired by former Israeli high court judge Jacob
Turkel, a specialist in civil law who has also served as a judge on
military
court appeals panels.   The other two Commission members will be Amos
Horev, a retired major-general and former chief scientist of Israel’s
defense establishment, and Shabbtai Rosen, a professor of international
law at Bar Ilan University and former representative of Israel to the
United
Nations.  

The two international observers, David Trimble, former First Minister of
Northern Ireland, and Ken Watkin, former head of Canada’s military
judiciary,
will only participate in the hearings and discussions of the Commission
as observers.  

Any information considered “almost certain to cause substantial harm”
to Israel’s national security or foreign relations, by the Commission
chair can be withheld from the international observers.

The Commission may also choose to censor their report on similar
grounds,
after consulting with what is vaguely termed ‘the authorized bodies’.

“The processes of the Commission must be open, transparent and allow
access
to all information sources,” said Smart. “It should not allow the
political
considerations of the Israeli government to determine which of its
findings
are made public.”

It is unclear too whether and to what extent the Commission will have
access
to all documentation, including film and video footage seized from
television
crews and others aboard the ships in the flotilla, and what efforts it
will make to gather information from the international activists who
were
on board the ships making up the flotilla.

“The stipulation that the findings of the Commission cannot be used in
future legal proceedings is particularly worrying” said Smart. “It puts
into serious question the possibility that anyone found to have ordered
or committed human rights violations or violations of international
humanitarian
law will be held accountable.”

Israel, like all states, has an obligation to prosecute and punish
perpetrators
of crimes under international law. In addition, individual commanders
and
superiors may be criminally responsible as a result of the conduct of
their
subordinates. The Israeli investigation should reaffirm the State of
Israel’s
obligation to combat impunity.

While its mandate includes examining "the security circumstances
surrounding
the imposition of the naval blockade" the Commission has not been
given scope to examine more broadly the legality of Israel’s closure of
Gaza, which includes a blockade by land and air as well as by sea.

“The creation of this Commission must not distract attention from
Israel’s
continuing blockade of Gaza, which Israel must lift immediately,” said
Smart. “The Israeli authorities’ closure of Gaza constitutes collective
punishment and is in clear violation of the Israel’s legal obligations
as the occupying power.”  

The mechanisms available within Israel for investigating complaints have
been widely criticized.  

Despite repeated calls from the United Nations General Assembly, in the
18 months since the end of its 22-day military operation in Gaza, Israel
has so far failed to conduct investigations that are “independent,
credible
and in conformity with international standards” into the alleged war
crimes
and other serious violations of international law by its forces which
were
reported by the U.N.-mandated
Fact-Finding Mission on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.  

Amnesty International has called for a prompt and credible international
inquiry into the deaths of nine international activists during the
Israeli
action against the flotilla on May 31 and for full accountability.

Those selected to conduct such inquiry should be persons of acknowledged
impartiality, competence and expertise. Israel should cooperate fully
with
this international inquiry.

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