The U.N. report on events in Jenin is seriously flawed, Human Rights Watch said today. The report, mandated by a U.N. General Assembly resolution after Israeli objections forced the Secretary-General to disband a U.N. fact-finding team, largely limits itself to presenting competing accounts of the events during the Israeli military operations.
The report doesn't move us forward in terms of establishing the truth," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "Its watered-down account of the very serious violations in Jenin exposes the risk of compiling a report without any first-hand information."
While the report describes some general allegations that have been made about the conduct of the Israeli and Palestinian sides during the Israeli operation, it draws almost no conclusions on the merits of those claims. It makes only limited reference to the obligations of the parties under international law, makes few clear conclusions about violations of that law, and does not raise the issue of accountability for serious violations that may have been committed, some of which rise to the level of war crimes. Its information and analysis are strongest when dealing with the blockage of humanitarian and medical access to the camp.
Human Rights Watch said part of the report's problems stems from the terms of its mandate. Set up by a U.N. General Assembly resolution after the Secretary-General was forced by Israel's objections to disband a U.N. fact-finding mission, the report was collated from existing sources. The report was hampered still further when the government of Israel did not comply with the United Nation's request for information.
"Even with what they had, they could have done more," Megally said.
Examples of the report's failings include the following:
It refers to the fact that civilians died in the operation, without examining the circumstances of their deaths. It makes no mention of the strong evidence suggesting that some were willfully killed, such as Jamal Fayid, a 37-year old paralyzed man, who was crushed in the rubble of his home on April 7 after Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers refused to allow his family time to remove him from their home before a bulldozer destroyed it.
The U.N. report mentions that missiles were "at times" fired from helicopters, minimizing evidence suggesting that their use was intense and indiscriminate in Jenin camp, particularly on April 6 when missiles caught many sleeping civilians.
In its section dealing with abuses outside Jenin, the report fails to consider the systematic targeting of the offices of Palestinian media organizations, as well as the serious impediments faced by international journalists and human rights monitors attempting to document events.
It does not discuss what, if any, steps the parties have taken to investigate credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law raised in the report-vital for ensuring accountability and discouraging future violations.
Human Rights Watch researchers spent three weeks on the ground, including in Jenin camp, immediately following the operation. Researchers gathered detailed accounts from victims and witnesses, carefully corroborating and independently crosschecking their accounts with those of others to reconstruct a detailed picture of events in the camp in April 2002. The findings were published in a 52-page report, "Jenin: IDF Military Operations." In early May, the Israel Defense Forces made a commitment to investigate every incident documented in the report. To date, Human Rights Watch has had no response from the IDF as to the progress of any such investigations.