Human Rights Watch welcomes the latest Commission of Inquiry report on the Gaza conflict and urges Israel, Hamas and member states to implement its recommendations. We regret that Israel refused to cooperate with the commission and has rejected the report as biased rather than engage on the facts.
The report rightly condemns Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for serious violations of the laws of war, some of which may amount to war crimes. We note the devastating impact of the fighting in Gaza, where 1,462 Palestinian civilians lost their lives, one-third of them children. In Israel, six civilians were killed. The report found that the attacks causing many of these civilian deaths were unlawful.
Alongside civilian deaths, the report stressed the “enormous destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza.” We call for ending unjustified restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza to facilitate reconstruction and revive the economy.
A key conclusion of the report is that, despite extensive violations in this and previous conflicts, a culture of impunity prevails. The commission called on Israel to change its “lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers accountable” and said that Hamas has “consistently failed” to bring violators to justice.
These conclusions match Human Rights Watch’s findings that neither side has shown a willingness to investigate seriously, much less prosecute, abuses by its own forces.
The standard required by international humanitarian law is not just to investigate low-level soldiers who might have committed crimes but also the commanders and senior officials who set policies that led to unlawful attacks. Regarding Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, that would include those responsible for indiscriminate mortar and rocket fire into Israeli population centers. For Israel, that would include those responsible for, among other things, deliberate attacks on occupied residential buildings without an apparent legitimate military target and the indiscriminate use of artillery and other explosive weapons in populated areas.
In the absence of credible domestic proceedings by Israel and Palestinian authorities, the international community has an important role to play. That would include national investigations under the principle of universal jurisdiction as well as investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which now has a mandate over serious crimes committed on or from the territory of Palestine since June 13, 2014.
We join the commission’s call on all relevant parties to cooperate with the ICC during its current preliminary examination and later if it opens a formal investigation. To break the culture of impunity, we also support calls for the Human Rights Council to review the implementation of recommendations from this and previous reports by commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions, the Secretary-General and others.