By adopting a politicized resolution that looks only at Israeli abuses in the current conflict, the Human Rights Council undermined its credibility and wasted an opportunity to protect civilians in the region, Human Rights Watch said today. The council decided to establish a commission of experts to investigate deadly attacks by Israel, but took no action with regard to Hezbollah’s murderous abuses. The council concluded a special session today in Geneva.
“The one-sided approach taken by the Human Rights Council is a blow to its credibility and an abdication of its responsibility to protect human rights for all,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “This is a poor way to launch a new institution.”
Tunisia requested the special session of the Human Rights Council on behalf of the Group of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The resolution, also circulated by Tunisia for the OIC, was adopted by a vote of 27 in favor and 11 against, with eight abstentions.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Lebanon on July 12, Human Rights Watch has documented extensive violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by both Israel and Hezbollah. Israeli forces have consistently launched artillery and air attacks with limited or dubious military gain but excessive civilian cost. Hezbollah has fired at least 3,500 rockets into northern Israel, most of which have been deliberately directed at civilian areas. Human Rights Watch has also collected evidence of Hezbollah storing weapons in or near civilian homes and fighters placing rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers, which are additional violations of international humanitarian law. However, these violations do not explain some 150 civilian deaths by Israeli bombing examined by Human Rights Watch.
The council resolution as adopted condemns “grave Israeli violations of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law in Lebanon” as well as “the bombardment of Lebanese civilian populations,” but fails to mention Hezbollah by name or explicitly refer to its violations of international humanitarian law. It does, however, “urge all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, to refrain from violence against the civilian population and to treat under all circumstances all detained combatants and civilians in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.” The inquiry launched by the council is charged with investigating “the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon,” as well as the weapons Israel has used and the impact of “Israeli attacks on human life, property, critical infrastructure and environment.”
One side’s war crimes in an armed conflict do not justify ignoring the other side’s war crimes. To be credible, human rights investigations into armed conflicts must take an objective and thorough approach by looking at abuses by both sides. If the scope of an investigation is artificially constricted, investigators will have a harder time gaining the cooperation of the parties and securing respect for their findings.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, who addressed the special session, echoed calls for a comprehensive inquiry into reports of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in both Israel and Lebanon. She stressed that, “The independence, impartiality and objectivity of such an inquiry must be guaranteed not only by the credibility of the panel members, but also by the scope and the methodology of their mandate.”
“An international investigation of wartime abuses in Lebanon and Israel is desperately needed,” said Hicks. “But this incomplete investigation will be severely compromised from the start.”
The OIC’s position at the council was expected. Human Rights Watch was dismayed, however, by the response of other members. Many governments, including the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Russia and Zambia, called for a more balanced approach to the crisis when addressing the council, but none took any visible initiative to ensure a more objective resolution. Only Switzerland was said to have worked actively to amend the resolution. This abdication of leadership contributed to the council’s failure to take meaningful steps to protect civilians in Lebanon and Israel.
“Victims of human rights violations deserve better than the partisan fare that the Human Rights Council has offered so far,” Hicks said. “Attention must now turn to the council’s September session to see if it redeems itself by taking action on the full range of violations in this conflict, and by focusing on the many other human rights crises worldwide that demand its attention.”