Expert says UN could ‘bury’ Goldstone report 25Feb10 February 26, 2010

Ma’an News Agency -  25 February 2010

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Chicago – Ma’an – A year after Israel’s assault on Gaza, bureaucratic wrangling is threatening to bury a UN report that accuses Israel and Palestinian militias of committing war crimes, a UN expert on the issue said on Wednesday.

Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, made the remarks ahead of a Friday vote at the UN General Assembly, which is expected to give Israeli and Palestinian authorities five more months to investigate war crimes charges outlined in the Goldstone report.

“I think it’s part of the wider effort basically to bury the recommendations of the Goldstone report, unnecessarily delaying the implementation of its recommendations,” Falk told Ma’an in a phone interview.

As time passes, Falk said, the UN is less likely to hold accused war criminals accountable. The delays “remove the reality of what happened in Gaza from the collective memory of world society.”

The UN-mandated fact-finding mission led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone investigated the possibility of the commission of war crimes during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza in 2008 and 2009. During the hostilities, more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. A renowned judge who was the lead international prosecutor in war crimes tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, Goldstone and his team visited Gaza, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and collected thousands of pages of documents in compiling the report. Israel refused to comply with the investigation.

Goldstone’s report found evidence of war crimes, and suggested that the Hamas government, militant factions in Gaza and the Israeli government conduct independent investigations into the allegations. Failing internal tribunals, the report recommended, bodies like the International Criminal Court should be called on to act.

Under a General Assembly resolution passed in November, the sides were given three months to investigate Goldstone’s findings and hold perpetrators accountable. In February, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said both sides had been inconclusive in their investigations, but did not recommend further action on the issue. Rights groups slammed Ban’s report as letting accused war criminals off the hook.

An Arab-backed resolution to be put to a vote on Friday calls on Israel and the Palestinians “to conduct investigations that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards.”

It also asks Ban to report back to the assembly “within a period of five months on the implementation of the present resolution, with a view to the consideration of further action, if necessary, by the relevant UN organs and bodies, including the Security Council.”

Falk was incredulous about the five-month extension. “There’s no responsible reason for this delay,” he said. “It’s been well over a year since the events occurred and there’s been ample scrutiny” of Goldstone’s findings, he added. “It doesn’t seem like an appropriate response.”

In Falk’s view, the General Assembly resolution in November left open avenues for international action, but this “depended on the balance of political authority.”

Since the United States is expected to veto any resolution in the UN Security Council on the Gaza report, human rights advocates are seeking ways to implement Goldstone’s recommendations through other avenues.

Issam Yunis, the director of the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, said Friday’s vote will be a last-ditch effort “to keep the Goldstone report alive.”

“The report should not be dealt with like the hundreds of other reports that are lying on the desks of UN officials,” he said in a phone interview.

Yunis confirmed that Security Council action on the issue is unlikely: “We are not naive; we know the politics of the of the UN.”

But he added, “If there is political will – even without going to the Security Council he [Ban] can proceed. The General Assembly – they can do something.”

Rights advocates believe Ban and other UN organs have come under political pressure from the report’s opponents (Israel and the US) to bury the report, even without a formal US veto in the Security Council.

In a meeting with Ban on Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attacked the Goldstone report as “biased and tendentious document that harms the ability of democratic states to fight terrorist organization, and especially those acting within populated areas.”

“Its only ‘achievement’,” Barak said, according to Israeli news site Ynet, “was to strengthen terrorist organizations while using civilians as human shields.”

In the face of Israeli and US pressure, Falk said of the efforts in the General Assembly are “ultimately … a bureaucratic parallel to the veto that formally exists in the Security Council.”

“It’s a real litmus test of the UN to surmount geopolitical pressures that collide with legal rights.”

But the PLO’s envoy to the UN in New York, Riyad Mansour told Ma’an that the General Assembly resolution is a good-faith attempt to seek accountability for the victims in Gaza.

“The Goldstone report is like a bulldozer and it is moving. Sometimes it is moving fast, sometimes it is moving slow,” Mansour said in a phone interview.

“It’s a process. We’ll continue with these steps until the Israeli criminals face justice and receive the punishment they deserve. This is how we can vindicate the Palestinian victims,” he said adding that he expected Friday’s resolution to pass by a wider margin than the original measure in November

“It’s a tedious process. In the former Yugoslavia it took years to get those who committed the crimes to go before the courts,” he noted.

Mansour also pointed out that the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva (the body that referred the Goldstone report to New York) is slated to take up the report again on Monday. According to Mansour, the rights council will focus on two of the report’s recommendations in particular: setting up a fund to compensate victims, and banning certain types of weapons.

Yunis, the Gaza human rights attorney, said barring a dramatic turnaround in UN politics, his group and others plan to file suits against Israeli leaders in third-country courts.

“A main part of Goldstone’s recommendations is to utilize universal jurisdiction,” he said. “We are also considering going to courts in many countries. This is our work together with other other organizations.”


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