Al Mezan meets the UN committee of experts in context of following-up Goldstone’s report 16Aug10 August 18, 2010

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights -   16 August 2010

A delegation from the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights met at 8pm on Sunday 15 August 2010 the UN Committee of Experts in the Gaza City. The Committee visit to Gaza comes in the context of monitoring and assessing the compliance of the parties of their obligation to investigate violations of international law during Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 and January 2009 in line with the recommendations of the Goldstone Report. Al Mezan’s delegation included its director Mr. Issam Younis, Mr. Mahmoud Abu Rahma, coordinator of communication and international relations and Mr. Samir Zaqout, coordinator of the field work unit. The Committee included Professor Christian Tomuschat from Germany (chairperson), Mr. Param Cumaraswamy from Malaysia and Justice Mary McGowan Davis from the USA. The Committee was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, pursuant to Resolution A/HRC/Res/13/9. It will report to the Council in its fifteenth session in September 2010.

Al Mezan’s delegation welcomed the Committee and expressed its appreciation of its mission, which is crucial for the efforts to ensure accountability for the gross violation of human rights and international law. All the parties are obliged to investigate the suspected violations during the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. Such violations have continued since the offensive and many of which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. Investigations must live up to the relevant international standards of promptness, effectiveness, independence and credibility.

Al Mezan’s delegation criticized the prevalent attitude of the international community which tended in the past years to sacrifice human rights in what seems to be ‘giving peace a chance’. Realities on the ground clearly show that human rights deterioration seriously whereas peace seems to be too far from being achieved. Peace must be built on a solid foundation of respecting, rather than violating, human rights and international law.

Al Mezan’s presented the Centre’s experiences and observations regarding the Israeli investigations into suspected war crimes. Al Mezan and its partners, Adalah and Al Haq, had filed several complaints with the Israeli authorities and requested criminal investigations into them. Al Mezan’s delegation explained to the Committee the way the Israeli authorities dealt with the investigations and treated the victims and witnesses in the few cases that were investigated; including cases of killing of civilians, destruction of civilian property, and using civilians as human shields.

Al Mezan informed the Committee that most of these files were closed without any indictments, even in cases where the accounts of the victims and witnesses matched those of the Israeli soldiers who served in the units that committed the violations. It also pointed out that the Israeli response was limited to opening investigations into a limited number cases, and indictments into few cases that involve incriminating soldiers, but overlook examining the polices of Israeli leadership during the offensive. Those policies caused death and destruction unprecedented in scale, but also in the extent of disregard to international law. It is clear that Israel has handled the investigations in a manner that would ensure immunity to military and political leaders.

Al Mezan helped hundreds of victims to access Erez crossing for interviews with the Israeli investigators. It also delivered 412 notifications to the Israeli Ministry of Defense on behalf of the victims of violations of Operation Cast Lead. This effort aims to ensure that the victims will maintain the slight opportunity to file lawsuits before the Israeli courts; which is an extremely difficult step to take under the current legal regime in Israel.

Al Mezan expressed its shock by the closing of the investigations without any significant results; especially after presenting well-documented cases of attacks against the civilian infrastructure and civilian property, the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas, the attacks on medical structures and personnel without military necessity. These violations have continued in Gaza after the offensive, and are expected to continue as long as their perpetrators are not held accountable for them.

On the Palestinian side, Al Mezan’s reported to the Committee Palestinian human rights organizations had documented numerous violations in the Gaza Strip and made them public. Human rights organizations provided information and evidence to the Goldstone Mission, which included them in its report. In January 2010, human rights organizations sent letters to the two Palestinian governments, urging them to conduct credible and independent investigations into all the allegations mentioned in Goldstone report. The two governments have established investigative committees; however, there has not been sufficient information about the investigations and their outcomes, which makes it difficult to assess their credibility at this stage.

Al Mezan informed the Committee of some of the structural problems which the Palestinian justice system suffers. It also directed the attention to the complex situation of government under occupation and guerilla activity; especially with the destruction of prison and forensic investigation facility in the Gaza Strip by Israel.

Al Mezan; however, urged that Palestinian authorities investigate all the human rights violations and ensure accountability and redress. The results of the investigative committees work must be relayed to the Committee of Experts to consider them and gauge their compliance with international standards.

In the end of the meeting, Al Mezan informed the Committee that it would assist with arranging meeting between the Committee confirmed and the victims and eyewitnesses. Al Mezan’s wished the Committee success in its work, which marks a very important contribution to ensuring justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators, not only in Palestine but worldwide.

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