21 April 2009
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned at recent Israeli statements implying that the State of Israel will not cooperate with the independent investigation established by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The investigation is led by Justice Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Both tribunals were established by the United Nations Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The independent fact finding mission is mandated to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law, related to the recent 23 day Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The offensive claimed the lives of 1,417 Palestinians, 1,181 (83%) of whom were non-combatants: the protected persons of IHL. 13 Israelis also died, including 3 civilians. Civilian property in the Gaza Strip was extensively destroyed, initial investigations indicate that 21,000 houses were completely or partially destroyed, 6,636 dunums of agricultural land were razed, and approximately 1,500 factories and workshops were completely destroyed.
The excessively disproportionate civilian death toll and the extensive destruction of Gaza’s property and infrastructure demand judicial review. Many of the cases documented by PCHR amount to war crimes, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
PCHR believe that Israel’s unwillingness to cooperate with this independent investigation represents an attempt to shield alleged perpetrators of war crimes from justice. Israel has consistently proven unwilling to effectively investigate serious allegations of illegal behaviour committed by its forces in the occupied Palestinian territory.
On 30 March 2009, Military Attorney General Achivai Mandelblit closed an investigation into Israeli soldiers accounts of alleged crimes committed in the Gaza Strip. Although the soldiers had made allegations that including war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, the inquiry was terminated after just 11 days.
On 29 January 2009, the Central Investigative Judge No. 4 of the Audencia Nacional (Spanish National Court) ruled that Israeli authorities were not willing to investigate and bring to trial persons responsible for the Shehadeh assassination in 2002.
Since the outbreak of the second Intifada, Israel no longer opens a mandatory investigation into cases where Israeli forces killed or wounded Palestinian civilians not taking part in hostilities.
PCHR believe that the rule of law must be upheld: it is civilians who suffer the consequences of illegal acts. A lack of accountability and a culture of impunity only serve to encourage continued violations of IHL and international human rights law.
PCHR remind the State of Israel of its legally-binding obligation – as codified in Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – to effectively investigate and prosecute all those suspected of committing grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Should Israel prove unable or unwilling to do so, as is evidently the case, then in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction, all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions are obliged to search for and prosecute persons accused of committing grave breaches, irrespective of where theses crimes occurred. There is no valid pretext, legal or otherwise, for not respecting the Conventions in their entirety.