The United Nations Human Rights Council's resolution endorsing the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is a crucial step toward securing accountability for the civilian victims of the war on all sides. It is now the responsibility of Israel and Hamas to conduct credible domestic investigations.
The Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict of December 2008-January 2009 found Israel as well as Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups responsible for serious violations of the laws of war, some amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The mission, headed by the respected South African jurist Richard Goldstone, called on Israel and on Hamas to conduct credible, impartial investigations to determine who was responsible for ordering and carrying out these violations. It said the UN should establish a mechanism to monitor whether they do so, and if they do not, then the UN Security Council should consider referring the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Goldstone report found that Israeli forces unlawfully used white phosphorous munitions and heavy artillery in densely populated areas, fired upon civilians holding white flags, and deprived the civilian population of basic needs for long months through the blockade, a form of collective punishment. The report also found Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups responsible for deliberately firing rockets into Israeli towns to harm and terrorize Israeli civilians.
The Human Rights Council mandated the Fact-Finding Mission to "investigate all violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law" in relation to the Gaza conflict before, during, and after the Israeli military operations that started on December 27, 2008 and ended on January 18, 2009. In carrying out that mandate, Judge Goldstone and his team worked to ensure that both Palestinian and Israeli victims and official positions were heard.
We, human rights and civil society organizations working in the Middle East and North Africa, see the Goldstone report as remarkable opportunity for several reasons:
- First, with its mandate expanded to include Palestinian as well as Israeli violations, the Goldstone report provides an impartial look at dozens of episodes during this war from the perspective of international humanitarian law, which obliges all parties to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects;
- Second, it puts the onus squarely on the parties to the conflict to undertake the necessary investigations into the conduct of their respective forces and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes;
- Third, it bridges the gap between those serious violations and accountability;
We recognize, as civil society organizations in the Middle East-North Africa region, that the Israeli military caused far greater harm to civilian lives and property than operations by Palestinian armed groups during the Israeli attack. We also note the great disparity in the military strength of the parties. But these violations and the high death toll in Gaza do not detract from the need to investigate serious violations of the laws of war by all sides. Nor can they justify violations by Hamas. Violations of the laws of war are not measured in the number of civilian casualties, but whether each side is taking all feasible precautions to minimize civilian loss. Using unsophisticated weapons does not justify failure to respect the laws of war; nor does an adversary's use of sophisticated weapons provide a pass to its opponents to ignore those laws. The unnecessary loss of civilian life can be minimized only if both parties recognize and respect their obligations to abide by the laws of war, however sophisticated or unsophisticated the weapons at their disposal.
What is necessary now is that Israel and Hamas conduct credible domestic investigations into alleged war crimes committed during the Gaza war and to bring those responsible for ordering and conducting violations to account.
By holding accountable all those who committed crimes in violation of international law in Gaza and southern Israel, the United Nations thereby will send a strong message to the Arab world, as well as the world at large, encouraging respect for the core humanitarian principles that lie at the heart of the laws of war.
This is an opportunity for the UN General Assembly and the Security Council to send a clear message to Israeli and Palestinian leaders - indeed to leaders and supporters of states and movements the world over - that civilians, regardless of nationality, religious or ethnic background are not legitimate targets of attack.
We, civil society organizations working in the Arab world, strongly support the Goldstone report and its recommendations, and call on all the members of the UN General Assembly to support a resolution endorsing the Goldstone report and its recommendations, and conveying the report to the UN Security Council as soon as possible. We urge the members of the Security Council to consider the report and adopt a resolution consistent with the report's findings and recommendations.
- Adala Association, Morocco;
- Algerian League for Human Rights, Algeria;
- Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Algeria;
- Arabic Network for Human Rights, Egypt;
- Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship (AFDC), Jordan;
- Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Bahrain);
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Egypt;
- Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, Syria;
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Egypt);
- Hewar Foundation for Democratic Development, Yemen;
- Human Rights First Society (HRFS), Saudi Arabia;
- Human Rights Watch, United States;
- Mada Center, Morocco;
- Movement of Civil Liberties and Democracy -HAQ (Bahrain);
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (Gaza, Palestine);
- Observatory of Human and Environmental Development, Jordan;
- Tunisian League for Human Rights; Tunisia;