(New York) - Today's United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for impartial Gaza war crimes investigations is an important step toward justice for all civilian victims of last year's conflict, Human Rights Watch said.  A majority of UN members, including most European Union (EU) states, voted for the resolution, increasing pressure on Israel and Hamas to conduct credible investigations into the allegations of war crimes by their forces.

A November 2009 General Assembly resolution calling for credible domestic investigations by all parties to the conflict garnered support from only 5 EU member states.

"The UN resolution sends a strong message that Israel and Hamas need to conduct genuine investigations into the allegations of wartime abuses and punish those responsible," said Steve Crawshaw, UN advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.  "Governments are refusing to exempt the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from demands for justice made for other conflicts around the world."

By a vote of 98 to 7, with 31 abstentions, the General Assembly called on Israel and Hamas to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into the serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law documented by the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (the Goldstone report).  Fifty-six countries did not vote.  The resolution requires Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the General Assembly within five months on the progress both parties have made.

The Goldstone report concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Sixteen EU members voted for the resolution, including permanent Security Council members France and the United Kingdom.

The countries voting against were Canada, Israel, Macedonia, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, and the United States.

"Washington's objection to this resolution reveals a blatant double standard when it comes to international justice," Crawshaw said.  "Why should the victims of war crimes in Gaza not benefit from the same US demands for accountability as victims in Congo and Darfur?"

In its resolution on November 5, 2009, the General Assembly called on Israel and Hamas to conduct credible investigations within three months.  In late January 2010, Israel and Hamas delivered their reports on domestic investigations to the UN.  Based on those reports, Secretary-General Ban told the General Assembly on February 4 that, because the domestic processes were ongoing, "no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned." He repeated his call on all parties "to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the Gaza conflict."

Human Rights Watch has strongly criticized both Israel and Hamas for failing to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into the many alleged violations by their forces during the Gaza conflict. 

To date, Israel has not prosecuted any soldier or commander for unlawful killings or other serious laws-of-war violations during the Gaza conflict.  Nor has it conducted credible investigations into military policies that may have contravened the laws of war or facilitated war crimes. These include the targeting of Hamas political institutions and Gaza police; the use of heavy artillery and white phosphorus munitions in populated areas; and the rules of engagement for aerial drone operators and ground forces.

Hamas has not disciplined or prosecuted anyone for ordering or carrying out thousands of deliberate or indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centers before, during, and after the fighting in December 2008 and January 2009.  Killings and other serious abuses by Hamas security forces against suspected collaborators and political rivals in Gaza have also gone unpunished.

"The United States, Canada, and other governments that voted against the Gaza resolution missed an opportunity to help break the cycle of violence and impunity that poses a major obstacle to the peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Crawshaw said.