(Washington DC) - Members of the US House of Representatives should oppose a resolution that calls for the Obama administration to reject scrutiny of Israel and Hamas for laws-of-war violations in the recent Gaza conflict, Human Rights Watch said today.
House Resolution 867 calls on the US president and secretary of state to "oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict' in multilateral fora." Debate on the non-binding resolution is scheduled for November 3, 2009.
The UN Gaza report - known as the Goldstone report after its chief author Justice Richard Goldstone - documents war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by Israel and Hamas during 22 days of fighting in Gaza and southern Israel in December 2008 and January 2009. The UN General Assembly is expected to debate a resolution on the report on November 4.
"The congressional resolution condemning the Goldstone report has factual errors and would help shield from justice the perpetrators of serious abuses - both Israeli and Palestinian," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Congress should oppose this rejection of a detailed and balanced report that the Obama administration says deserves attention."
The US government has strongly criticized the Goldstone report but also said it contains serious allegations that merit domestic investigations by Israel and Hamas. On October 15, US Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Douglas M. Griffiths told the UN Human Rights Council that the report "raises important issues and serious allegations." He continued:
There have been calls for accountability on all sides of this conflict. These calls come not just from political leaders in international organizations and government officials, but from husbands, wives, parents and children who live with the pain of losing innocent loved ones to violence and with the threat of imminent danger to their families. These calls cannot be ignored or deflected. They must be heard, and they deserve a response.
"Congress shouldn't undermine the Obama administration's efforts to encourage credible domestic investigations," Whitson said.
Human Rights Watch also called on the Obama administration to articulate its specific criticisms of the Goldstone report.
"US officials should state their specific concerns about the Goldstone report rather than criticize it in general terms," Whitson said. "The failure to give details suggests the concerns are more about domestic politics than the facts."
Co-sponsored by Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Howard Berman, the bi-partisan House Resolution 867 contains serious factual errors, Human Rights Watch said. The resolution, for example, erroneously states that the Goldstone report "makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks" by Palestinian armed groups into Israel. The report documents these unlawful attacks on Israeli civilians, calling them war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
The resolution condemns the allegedly anti-Israel bias of the fact-finding mission's mandate, but fails to mention that the working mandate was deliberately expanded to look at both Israel and Hamas. The resolution claims that Hamas significantly shaped the report's findings "by selecting and prescreening some of the witnesses." Goldstone has adamantly rejected the claim and, to date, no one has provided any evidence that Hamas selected or prescreened witnesses.
The resolution also says that the report "denied the State of Israel the right to self-defense." The report does not question Israel's right to use military force. It examines whether Israel and Hamas, in resorting to force, conducted military operations in compliance with the laws of armed conflict, which are designed to spare civilians as much as possible the hazards of war.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its opposition to one-sided UN resolutions and reports that look only at Israel. But the Goldstone report represents a departure because it looks critically at all parties to the conflict, Human Rights Watch said.
"The Goldstone report presents an opportunity to pursue justice for the victims in Gaza and Israel," Whitson said. "Instead of denouncing the report, the US Congress should urge Israel and Hamas to break the cycle of abuse and impunity, which for too long has fueled hatred and hindered efforts at peace."
The Goldstone report's findings that both Israel and Hamas committed serious violations of international law in their deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians are corroborated by several human rights organizations that conducted their own investigations in Gaza and Israel, including Human Rights Watch.
Israel and Hamas must now launch credible domestic investigations into the serious allegations in the Goldstone report, Human Rights Watch said. The US Congress and Obama administration should demand that those investigations take place, not engage in partisan charades that undermine the prospects for justice and an end to abuses.