The Palestinians and their allies have called for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to become involved in a row over Gaza war crimes investigations, proposing that he monitor whether Israel and Hamas are conducting credible investigations into alleged abuses during their conflict last winter.
The proposal was contained in a draft resolution circulated to members of the U.N. Human Rights Council before a debate Thursday and Friday on a report that accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Dec. 27 — Jan. 18 war.
Israel has tried to discredit the report and its authors, claiming the panel of U.N. experts led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone was biased against the Jewish state. Hamas — which controls the Gaza Strip — has sought to capitalise on the report’s criticism of Israel while downplaying serious allegations the document makes against Palestinian militants.
The Human Rights Council commissioned the report and had intended to vote on it in early October. Palestinian diplomats agreed to delay consideration until March under heavy pressure from the U.S., but later changed course after angry protests from ordinary Palestinians.
U.S. officials had warned that dwelling on the report could jeopardise attempts to revive the Mideast peace process — an argument Palestinian rights groups rejected Thursday.
“It’s very weird to say that if we adopt a resolution in the Human Rights Council we are obstructing the peace process,” said Randa Siniora, executive director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights based in Ramallah.
“We don’t think that a just and durable solution would be possible without adherence to international law,” she said.
Israel and Palestine trade bitter accusations
Nevertheless, a debate on the report on Wednesday in the U.N. Security Council saw Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riad Al-Malki, and Israel’s U.N. Ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, trade bitter accusations about the Goldstone report.
Mr. Al-Malki called for global action to punish Israel, warning that the credibility of the United Nations and international human rights law was at stake. Ms. Shalev countered that the report “favours and legitimises terrorism” and “denies Israel’s right to defend its citizens.”
The resolution that Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and others proposed to the Human Rights Council late Wednesday endorses the Goldstone team’s findings. It asks Mr. Ban to report back to the Rights Council in March on whether Israel and the Palestinians are complying with the document’s recommendations calling for impartial and independent probes by both sides and bringing any perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
The move to rope in the U.N. chief appeared to be an effort to pile further pressure on the international community to ensure justice and hold war crimes perpetrators accountable.
Refer matter to ICC: Goldstone report
The report already recommends that the Security Council should determine within six months whether credible investigations are taking place. If they aren’t, it says the council should refer the matter to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Security Council is unlikely to recommend such a move as the U.S., a long-standing ally of Israel, considers the report unbalanced and doesn’t want it considered by the 15-nation body, where it has veto power.
The report also recommended that countries use what is known as “universal jurisdiction” to arrest and prosecute those suspected of war crimes, a suggestion that has infuriated and unnerved senior Israeli officials. Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed earlier this week that he would never allow war crimes trials against Israeli leaders or soldiers.
The 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, which include Hamas, of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks on southern Israel.
European diplomats in Geneva expressed concern on Wednesday about several aspects of the proposed resolution, but said the Human Rights Council’s 47 members would seek to find a compromise ahead of a probable vote Friday. The council, which is dominated by African and Asian countries, has a record of passing resolutions critical of Israel.
“We hope the Goldstone report doesn’t end as piles of paper,” Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.