For Immediate Release
Media Relations Director
New UN Inquiry Offers Hope for War Crimes Victims From Gaza Conflict, Says Amnesty International
LONDON - Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides must fully cooperate with the UN's
fact-finding mission looking into possible war crimes and international
law violations committed during the recent conflict in Gaza and southern
Israel, Amnesty International said today.
"The victims of this brutal conflict have a right to justice and reparation.
The perpetrators on both sides must be held accountable if there is to
be an end to the cycles of violence and impunity that have persisted for
so long," said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa
Program. "There must be no excuse for either Israel or the Palestinians
not to fully cooperate with the inquiry."
The newly appointed Chair, Justice Richard J. Goldstone, and the President
of the Human Rights Council recently acknowledged that the mission can
only credibly fulfill its mandate by also examining the violations of international
law committed by Palestinian armed groups.
"By expressly acknowledging the need to investigate the alleged violations
committed by all parties to the conflict, Richard Goldstone and the president
of the UN Human Rights Council have underscored the mission's independence
and greatly enhanced its credibility," Smart said.
"Only an authoritative, independent and impartial investigation into allegations
of war crimes and other violations of international law committed by all
sides can end the cycle of impunity and contribute to peace and security
in the Middle East," said Smart. "The victims have been badly let down
by the UN Security Council's failure to take any concrete steps to establish
accountability for the grave violations of international law, including
war crimes, that were committed by both sides during the conflict."
Having failed to set up an inquiry itself, the UN Security Council must
now insist that all parties fully cooperate with the international
fact-finding mission, Amnesty International said, adding that no party
must be allowed to undermine the investigation.
In addition, the organization said UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon must
ensure that the report of the Board of Inquiry looking into Israeli attacks
on UN staff and facilities in Gaza, due to be submitted to him today, is
promptly transmitted to the UN Security Council and that its findings and
recommendations are made public.
The UN Board of Inquiry was established by the UN Secretary-General on
February 12, 2009, with limited terms of reference to investigate attacks
on UN personnel and buildings in Gaza.
The independent international fact-finding mission, whose members have
now been appointed, was created by the UN Human Rights Council at its ninth
special session on January 12, 2009. Its mandate was to investigate alleged
violations of international law by Israeli forces, but it failed to mention
those by the other side.
During the Israeli military campaign "Cast Lead", between December
27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, Israeli forces killed more than 1,400 Palestinians,
including 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and injured
some 5,000 Palestinians, many of them maimed for life. Thousands of homes
and much of Gaza's economic infrastructure were destroyed by Israeli forces.
Victims who were burned by white phosphorus fired by Israeli forces into
residential areas are still dying. The latest to die last week was Ghada
Abu Halima, who was burned by white phosphorus on January 4, in her home
in the northern Gaza strip, in an attack which also killed her father-in-law
and four children from the family and injured several other relatives.
In the same period Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched a
barrage of indiscriminate rockets into towns and villages in the South
of Israel, killing three Israeli civilians and injuring dozens of others,
and destroying or damaging several houses.
Last month Israeli soldiers who took part in operation "Cast Lead" revealed
that some of their peers had wilfully or recklessly killed unarmed Palestinian
civilians and wantonly destroyed property. The allegations were quickly
dismissed by the Israeli Military General Attorney after a seemingly cursory
inquiry, while ongoing investigations by Amnesty International, Israeli
and Palestinian human rights groups uncovered evidence that both Israeli
forces and Palestinian armed groups committed serious violations of international
law, including possible war crimes. These include direct, indiscriminate
and disproportionate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, the targeting
of medical personnel and the denial of access to medical care for the wounded,
the use of indiscriminate weapons such white phosphorus and artillery,
in heavily-built up civilian areas, the use of human shields and wanton
destruction of property.
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