(Geneva) - The failure of the United States and European Union governments to endorse the report of the Gaza fact-finding mission sends a message that serious laws-of-war violations will be treated with kid gloves when committed by an ally, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 29, 2009 Justice Richard Goldstone presented the mission's report on the conflict in Gaza last December and January to the UN Human Rights Council.
Goldstone called on council members to endorse the report's recommendations, including those designed to ensure accountability for serious violations of the laws of war during the Gaza conflict by involving the stature and clout of the UN Security Council. In opposing that key recommendation, the United States resorted to calling the report "unbalanced" and "deeply flawed," but provided no real facts to support those assertions.
In fact, the report reflects a sober, careful assessment of the violations committed by both sides in the conflict, which closely corresponds to findings by Human Rights Watch and other independent groups. A statement read by the Swedish ambassador on behalf of the European Union recognized the seriousness of the report but also failed to endorse its conclusions or recommendations. EU countries on the council, including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, remained silent about the report.
"The US effort to dismiss the Goldstone report was downright shameful for an administration that claims to promote the rule of law and accountability for war crimes," said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. "It was also deeply disappointing that key EU governments did not seize this valuable opportunity to demand justice for victims on both sides of the conflict. The report's detailed findings and its careful recommendations deserve support, not dismissal and silence."
The 575-page report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, released on September 15, concluded that both Israel and Hamas were responsible for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The report recommended that the Israeli government and Hamas authorities conduct independent, impartial investigations within six months. Should the UN Security Council find that they failed to do so, the report urged it to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner told the Human Rights Council on September 29 that the "unbalanced recommendations taint many of the report's suggestions for international action." He said that because Israel was a democracy with a well-established commitment to rule of law, it had "the institutions and ability to carry out robust investigations into these allegations." He also noted that Israel had publicly announced that it was already investigating at least 100 complaints related to the Gaza conflict.
Human Rights Watch said that Posner ignored Israel's long history of failing to impartially investigate and prosecute members of its security forces implicated in serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. According to Israeli human rights groups, from 2000 to September 2008, Israel convicted only five soldiers of wrongful killings of Palestinians during a period when more than 2,200 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel's current investigations, all undertaken by the military, show little sign of being either effective or impartial. Nine months since the conflict ended, Israel is known to have interviewed only two Palestinian witnesses to any of the alleged crimes in Gaza, and convicted only one soldier, sentencing him to seven months in prison for the theft of a credit card.
"The stated US belief in Israel's willingness to seriously investigate itself reflects a disappointing refusal to confront reality," de Rivero said. "The US is missing an important opportunity: by letting Israel off the hook, it's also letting Hamas off the hook."
The United States has argued that adopting the Goldstone report and its recommendations would disrupt its efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But Goldstone reminded the council that ignoring attacks on civilians will undermine efforts for peace. The international community must confront the realities in the report, he said, and thereby "find a meaningful basis for the pursuit of peace and security."