UN meets on Israel war crimes report 14Oct09 October 15, 2009

CBS News -  14 October 2009

image4667652gThe Palestinians called Wednesday for global action to punish Israel for alleged war crimes during its military assault on Gaza last winter, warning that the credibility of the United Nations and international human rights law was at stake.

The demand was based on the findings of a commission headed by former South African judge Richard Goldstone that accused both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their Dec. 27-Jan. 18 war.

Israel immediately rejected the commission’s report, calling it “one-sided, biased and therefore wrong.”

The report became the focus of the Security Council’s monthly Mideast meeting on Wednesday after an about-face by the Palestinians.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki and Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev opened the council meeting Wednesday by trading accusations about the Goldstone report. The session ended Wednesday evening after nearly 50 speeches.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority traded barbs on who is sabotaging the peace process. Israel blamed the Palestinian focus on the Goldstone report on Israeli actions in Gaza last winter. The Palestinian foreign minister blamed Israeli settlements – making it clear that the peace process remained stalled,” said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk at the U.N.

The U.N. Human Rights Council commissioned the report and took it up in early October, but Palestinian diplomats agreed to delay consideration until March under heavy pressure from the United States. The U.S. feared it would jeopardize attempts to revive the Mideast peace process.

The call for a delay sparked scathing criticism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and led the Palestinians to reverse course, first seeking an emergency Security Council meeting and then seeking to reopen the Human Rights Council debate, which will happen on Thursday.

The Goldstone report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields, and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into Gaza to root out Palestinian rocket squads.

It accused Palestinian armed groups of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks on southern Israel. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority’s main rival, controls Gaza and most armed groups in the territory.

“There was no expected action out of the Security Council meeting on Wednesday since the Obama Administration had said it would veto any attempt to refer the allegations of Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court,” Falk said.

Al-Malki said “the savage Israeli military aggression” exhibited “a callous disregard for human life” and deliberately destroyed thousands of homes, schools, mosques and industrial and agricultural facilities.

He called the report “another wake-up call to the international community that must not be ignored,” adding that “the credibility and foundations of international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as of the U.N. as a whole, is at stake.”

Israel’s Shalev countered that the report “favors and legitimizes terrorism.”

She insisted that “it denies Israel’s right to defend its citizens. … It permits terrorists to victimize civilians, target the innocent, and use as human shields those it claims to defend.”

Shalev accused the world of “doing nothing” about Hamas’ smuggling of Iranian arms into Gaza, its launching of attacks from schools, mosques and hospitals, or its firing if 12,000 rockets against innocent Israeli civilians.

And she accused Libya – the only Arab member on the council – of trying to “hijack” its agenda by raising the Goldstone report, noting that three weeks ago Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi called the Security Council a “terror council.”

The report recommended that the Security Council require both sides to carry out credible investigations within three months into alleged abuses during the conflict – in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed – and to follow that up with action in their courts.

If either side refuses, the investigators recommended that the Security Council refer the evidence for prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, within six months.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud called the allegations in the report “grave indeed” and urged both parties to conduct independent investigations that meet international standards. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers expressed regret that Israel refused to cooperate with the commission and urged the Israeli government “to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations.”

The draft resolution to be considered at this week’s Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva would condemn Israel’s failure to cooperate with Goldstone’s fact-finding mission and endorse the report’s recommendations. The draft calls on the U.N. and other bodies to ensure implementation of the recommendations, calls on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report to the council on the status of implementation, and asks the General Assembly to take up the Goldstone report in the current session.

The Human Rights Council is expected to vote on the resolution on Friday, and approval will likely return the issue to the Security Council.

But council diplomats say there is little chance that the Security Council will take any action, primarily because of objections by the United States, Israel’s closest ally, which said the report should be handled by the Human Rights Council.

U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff reiterated Wednesday that the report and “the allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations … are not a matter for Security Council action.”

He also criticized what he termed “its unbalanced focus on Israel.”

Wolff said Israel has the institutions to seriously investigate the allegations “and we encourage it to do so.” On the other hand, he added: “Hamas is a terrorist organization and has neither the ability nor the willingness to examine its violations of human rights.”


HE Dr Riad Al-Malki’ speech to the UN Security Council, 14 October 2009

Statement by H.E. Dr. Riad Al-Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority, before the United Nations Security Council, The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, 14 October 2009:

Mr. President,

On behalf of Palestine, I congratulate you on your assumption of the Presidency of the Security Council and affirm our full confidence in your able and wise guidance of our important proceedings today and the Security Council’s agenda this month.

I also express appreciation to the delegation of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya for its efforts to accelerate the Council’s consideration of the critical situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly with regard to the disturbing findings of the United Nations Fact Finding Commission on the Gaza Conflict.  We thank as well the Arab Group, the OIC Group, and the Non-Aligned Movement for their endorsement of this initiative to prompt the Council to seriously consider this grave issue, in line with its Charter responsibilities.

I also wish to thank Under-Secretary-General, Mr. B.Lynn Pascoe, for his important briefing today.  Regrettably, all recent assessments of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory attest to the severity of the situation on all fronts.  The negative consequences of the continued failure to ensure Israel’s compliance with international law and to promote the appropriate conditions for resumption of the peace process should give rise to concern to the international community.

Mr. President,

We regret that, despite persistent efforts by the U.S. administration, the members of the Quartet, countries in the region and other concerned parties, no real progress has been made towards peace.  This is precisely because no real progress has been made towards addressing the major issues of concern, foremost among them the ongoing Israeli colonization campaign in the West Bank, especially in and around East Jerusalem, and the raging humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip as a consequence of the Israeli military aggression and the continued Israeli blockade.   Israel’s intransigence and defiance continue to jeopardize the prospects for realizing a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

We are at a critical juncture – sensitivities are rising to all-time highs and the need and calls for responsible action, accountability and justice are intense and must be heeded.  In this regard, the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the “Goldstone Report”, constitutes yet another wake-up call to the international community that must not be ignored.  At the same time, the volatile situation in Occupied East Jerusalem, the heart of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with all its attendant consequences should it spiral further out of control, remind us of the centrality of this issue to regional peace and security and require urgent attention.

Mr. President,

On Gaza: We are all too aware of the tragic consequences of the savage Israeli military aggression launched on 27 December 2008 against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population, of whom more than 1,400, including hundreds of innocent children and women, were brutally killed and more than 5,500 were injured, many permanently, as the occupying forces rampaged through Gaza, using all means of heavy and lethal weaponry and exhibiting a callous disregard for human life.  The widespread destruction deliberately wreaked by the occupying forces on the Gaza Strip shockingly remains in full view as Israel continues to obstruct the reconstruction of the thousands of homes, vital infrastructure, hospitals, schools, mosques, economic, industrial and agricultural facilities and even the UN facilities damaged and destroyed in the onslaught.  The continued imposition of this immoral, unlawful Israeli blockade in collective punishment of the population has ensured that the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip continue to live in misery amidst the ruins, deepening their humanitarian hardship and stoking the raw feelings of injustice.

In this regard, the investigation carried out by Justice Goldstone and his team, in follow up of the Human Rights Council request, led to findings that clearly confirm that Israel, the occupying Power, committed serious human rights violations and grave breaches of international humanitarian law, including the 4th Geneva Convention – amounting to war crimes and even crimes against humanity – against the Palestinian people.  This includes the willful killing of civilians, torture and inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, all of which give rise to Israeli criminal responsibility.

The investigation concluded that Israel failed to take the precautions required by international law to avoid or minimize loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, flagrantly violating the principle of distinction.  Moreover, it concluded that this Israeli military campaign was planned in all of its phases as a deliberately disproportionate and systematic attack aimed at punishing, humiliating and terrorizing the Palestinian civilian population, radically diminishing its economic capacity to sustain itself, and forcing upon it a heightened sense of dependency and vulnerability.  This shocking finding is confirmed thousands of times over by the depth of the trauma and anguish suffered by the Palestinian people to this day.

Mr. President,

The members of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – Justice Richard Goldstone, Professor Christine Chinkin, Ms. Hina Jilani and Colonel Desmond Travers – should be commended for the thorough investigation they carried out and for the comprehensive report that they compiled under difficult circumstances, including Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the Mission.  These persons are respectable, eminent jurists and experts of integrity and professionalism that cannot be challenged by anyone.

In this context, we are cognizant that the Mission investigated all allegations of violations of international law in the course of the Gaza conflict, including allegations against the Palestinian side.  While we reject any equating of the occupying Power’s aggression and crimes with actions committed in response by the Palestinian side and reaffirm that there is no symmetry and no proportionality between the occupier and the occupied, we take very seriously the allegations in the report regarding possible Palestinian violations.  In affirmation of our utmost respect for and our conviction in the rule of law, we reiterate the commitment, as publicly stated, for the pursuit of domestic investigations to address this critical matter.

Yet, essentially, what the Goldstone Report constitutes is another damning record of the Israeli crimes committed against our people under occupation, and the recommendations represent a significant contribution towards the pursuit of accountability and justice.  In this regard, while significant deterrent capacity is presented by this report, along with other investigations that preceded it, including by the Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry, the League of Arab States’ Independent Fact Finding Committee on Gaza, the ICRC, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and numerous other organizations, it is clear that serious follow up at all levels is imperative.  Responsible follow up and action is necessary to bring an end to Israel’s immoral and repugnant impunity and prevent the recurrence of such Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.

Mr. President,

Tomorrow the Human Rights Council will convene a special session, based on a Palestinian initiative upon the call of President Mahmoud Abbas, to rectify the malfunction that occurred at the Council in Geneva two weeks earlier.  In this regard, we thank all the countries that supported the request for this session.  We express the hope that the Human Rights Council will endorse the Goldstone Report and will formally convey it to the respective United Nations bodies in accordance with the report’s recommendations.

We affirm our strong belief that the pursuit of accountability will in the long term better serve the cause of peace, which cannot be attained without justice.  In this regard, we recall sage words by the eminent signatories of the 16 March 2009 open letter to the Secretary-General and the Security Council: “We have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East.”

We thus believe that the implementation of the recommendations of the Goldstone Report must be seriously pursued.  The Security Council should uphold its Charter duty to address such matters critical to the maintenance of international peace and security, and the General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the international community as a whole – here at the UN, as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, and in implementation of the principle of universal jurisdiction – all should act upon the recommendations made in the report in accordance with respective roles and responsibilities.

The credibility and foundations of international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as of the UN as a whole, is at stake.  The world has for too long witnessed Israel’s impunity, knowing well that this has been repeatedly fueled by the lack of punishment and accountability.  The tragic consequences have been suffered by generations of innocents throughout 60 years of statelessness and over 42 years of occupation.  We must break this obscene cycle – the outcry must be against the perpetrators of war crimes and not against those who seek justice for the victims.

Mr. President,

Israel must be stopped from committing the violations and crimes it continues to perpetrate against the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.  In this regard, I must also emphasize today the gravity of the situation prevailing in Occupied East Jerusalem.  The situation is highly volatile due to Israel’s illegal and provocative actions and incitement, including the flagrant pursuit of settlement activities and acts by extremist settlers at Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound, requiring urgent attention and action by the international community, including this Security Council.
In recent months and weeks we have drawn the attention of the Council to the rising and unprecedented levels of Israeli aggression towards Occupied East Jerusalem.  The occupying Power’s colonization measures and the lawless acts of terror, violence and provocation of its settlers in the City are inflaming tensions and threaten combustion of the already fragile, precarious situation on the ground.  While – as a central part of the effort to advance the cause of peace – the entire international community has been calling in unison for an immediate and complete cessation of Israeli settlement activities, including so-called “natural growth” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem, Israel continues to disrespect these calls and to flout international law and UN resolutions with outright fervor.

The occupying Power continues to construct and expand settlements, settlement infrastructure and the Wall, to confiscate more Palestinian land, to transfer more Israeli settlers, especially in and around East Jerusalem, and all other illegal measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character, nature and status of Occupied East Jerusalem, including ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes and eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and the revocation of residency permits.  It also continues carrying out excavations, including in the vicinity and underneath Al-Haram Al-Sharif, where it has permitted extremists to also perpetrate acts of provocation and incitement, riling religious sensitivities not only in the Holy City but far, far beyond throughout the Arab and Islamic world.

If such illegal actions and incitement remain unaddressed, the consequences at the political and security levels will surely be grave.  Not only do such actions have the high potential to reignite the cycle of violence between the two sides, but, as we have repeatedly cautioned, every single such illegal act of colonization and provocation further threatens the prospects for reviving the peace process and for actually physically achieving the two-State solution for peace on the basis of the 1967 borders.

Mr. President,

History has shown us that the prosecution of war crimes and the realization of justice is regrettably not an immediate process.  It requires perseverance and principled positions and commitment based on international law and moral convictions.  We will thus continue our pursuit for justice and will continue to reject and call for an end to the impunity that has allowed Israel for all these years to commit such mass crimes against the Palestinian people without fear of punishment.  We want to turn the page on this horrific and tragic chapter for Palestine and cross the threshold into a new era in which our people can live in peace, freedom and dignity in their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, exercising the rights to which all human beings are entitled but which they have for so long been denied.

This requires us to act – individually and collectively – with utmost urgency and responsibility to promote the respect for human rights and the respect for international law that are so essential for the actual realization of this new era and for the realization of genuine peace and coexistence in the region.  Unchecked impunity and the absence of justice will only continue to prolong this tragic conflict, prolong civilian suffering and obstruct peace efforts.  As stated by Justice Goldstone before the Human Rights Council, “a culture of impunity in the region has lasted for too long.  The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point… The mission is convinced that the international community must confront the realities highlighted in this report and that by doing so find a meaningful basis for the pursuit of peace and security for all the people of the region.  Only in that way will the human dignity and security of these people be realized.”

I thank you, Mr. President, and I thank the Members of the Security Council for their consideration of this serious matter.

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