Body Should Urge Investigation of Wartime Abuses by All Parties
August 11, 2006
A partisan approach by the Human Rights Council won’t help the victims of this conflict. It will only undermine the new council’s credibility. Only by looking at both Israel and Hezbollah can the council act in the principled way needed to protect civilians.
Peggy Hicks, Global Advocacy Director

The draft resolution before the U.N. Human Rights Council on the situation in Lebanon is a politicized and one-sided initiative that will do nothing to protect the victims of violence in this conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. To make a difference, the council must condemn violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by both Israel and Hezbollah, and call for the U.N. Secretary-General to establish an international investigation of those abuses. The council convenes a special session today in Geneva to address the conflict.

“A partisan approach by the Human Rights Council won’t help the victims of this conflict. It will only undermine the new council’s credibility,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Only by looking at both Israel and Hezbollah can the council act in the principled way needed to protect civilians.”

Since the beginning of the armed conflict on July 12, Israel has carried out more than 5,000 air strikes over Lebanon and fired artillery shells into southern Lebanon, reportedly killing more than 700 Lebanese civilians and wounding thousands. During that same period, Hezbollah has fired more than 2,500 rockets into Israel, killing 39 Israeli civilians and wounding hundreds more. Since the start of the hostilities, Human Rights Watch researchers have been on the ground documenting the conduct of both warring parties and the impact of their misconduct on civilians.

The special session of the Human Rights Council was requested by Tunisia on behalf of the Group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Both Tunisia’s request for the session and the draft resolution circulated by the OIC focus exclusively on Israeli violations. Neither one addresses or even acknowledges Hezbollah’s responsibility for abuses.

Human Rights Watch submitted a written statement for the special session which called for the council to consider violations committed by both Israel and Hezbollah, based on extensive research documenting both parties’ indiscriminate use of force against civilians. Human Rights Watch’s research shows that Israeli forces have consistently launched artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost. Human Rights Watch has also documented systematic violations of international humanitarian law by Hezbollah, including deliberate and indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets into civilian areas of Israel.

“Both Israel and Hezbollah have consistently failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians as required by the laws of war. The people of Lebanon and Israel are paying the price with their lives,” Hicks said. “An international investigation would expose those facts and help stem the tide of abuses.”

In its statement, Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Council to:

  • Call upon the Security Council to condemn serious violations of international humanitarian law by both sides to the conflict and call for the parties to scrupulously abide by the laws of war and to distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants;
  • Request the Secretary-General of the United Nations to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict;
  • Call for all parties to ensure safe passage for humanitarian relief, including to the area south of the Litani River, and for humanitarian evacuations;
  • Call for all parties to protect civilians from arbitrary displacement, to ensure the physical safety and material well-being of all those displaced by the current conflict, and to establish conditions that allow them to return voluntarily, in safety and dignity, to their homes; and
  • Insist that all parties cooperate with and provide access to the four special rapporteurs of the HRC who have announced their plans to travel to Lebanon and Israel.