March 21st KEY Date in Human Rights Council for Gaza Conflict Victims

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:35pm: The UN appointed Committee of Independent Experts released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.  It is this assessment which is going to be reviewed and debated by members of the Human Rights Council Monday, March 21st.  (See below).

UPDATE Friday, 3/18/11, 7:25pm: Amnesty Int’l just released their updated assessment of the Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations.

Original Post: Next Monday, March 21st, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider a critical report.  The report assesses the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into serious violations of international law committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict.

This report is expected to match a similar assessment submitted to the HRC last September that concluded that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side have failed to carry out investigations that are credible, independent and in conformity with international law.They have also failed to demonstrate a commitment to prosecuting perpetrators.  AI’s assessment concurs with these findings.

Despite clear documentation last September that both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in Gaza, were falling short of their obligations, Amnesty was shocked and dismayed to see the Human Rights Council fail to outline a clear plan for accountability and instead opt for delay.

AI wants HRC members to know that AI members worldwide are expecting real results this time.


The UN Votes on Goldstone Report — But Will It Act?

It’s been nearly four full months since the United Nations called upon both Israel and Palestinians to conduct independent and impartial investigations into alleged violations of international humanitarian law during the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza and Southern Israel.  These violations were reported upon in the so-called Goldstone Report. Amnesty International and the rest of the international community are still waiting for the two parties to give an adequate response.

Today (Feb. 26), the United Nations voted 98-7 with 56 countries absent to provide an additional five months for the parties to conduct these investigations.  To date, both Israel and Hamas have issued reports that fall woefully short of being effective and independent. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in his response to the reports, found little to praise in them but unfortunately fell short of an assessment of whether they met the criteria set by the UN.

This disappointment gets to the crux of the matter.  There are powerful efforts to ensure that the Goldstone Report doesn’t get acted on.  Amnesty International believes the report is a means toward justice in a conflict in which the evidence suggests war crimes were committed.  And more importantly, in its insistence that all sides to the conflict be judged by a single international standard, it also provides a way toward a long-term sustainable peace in a region that hasn’t had it for nearly 75 years.

Today’s UN resolution contains the elements that AI is calling for, although AI had lobbied for the text to be more explicit in terms of the assessment required from the Secretary-General at the end of the five months.

But if the UN allows both parties to dither and shirk their international responsibilities, the vote will be meaningless.  It’s particularly disappointing that the United States was one of the seven negative votes today.  US support for the Goldstone report and process is essential to its effectiveness.

We want the United States and all members of the UN to support this resolution and provide some strength to a process that offers promise but which can easily be derailed.  The goal must be to have Israel and Palestine conduct credible and thorough investigations that are monitored by a UN-mandated body of legal experts.  And in five months down the road, if the parties have not done so, the UN Security Council should refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.  That would be an act with teeth.

Human Rights on Several Fronts in Israel/PNA

Today begins a monumental week for human rights in Israel and the Palestine National Authority on several fronts.

Over the course of the next few days, in Israel, legislators will begin debate a draft of a law that would put asylum-seekers and migrants at risk for being returned to countries where they would face serious human rights violations. The United Nations will receive the secretary-general’s report on Israeli and Palestinian domestic investigations into violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) from December 2008 to January 2009. And in the United States, a congressional letter is circulating asking Representatives to press for immediate relief of the citizens of Gaza.

That’s a lot of activity, and at a time of significant international interest in the region, Amnesty International hopes that it will lead to a renewed focus on human rights issues as the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

To take the various actions of the week one at a time:

* The Israeli Knesset will begin discussion Feb. 3 on the Prevention of Infiltration Law.  The legislation comes out of a current crisis, particularly on the Egyptian border, where refugees from human rights violations – primarily the Sudan and Eritrea – are attempting to reach safety by entering Israel in large numbers. In recent years, large numbers have been forcibly returned to Egypt, where they are at risk of both human rights violations and of being forcibly returned to their country of origin.

Amnesty International is concerned that the draft legislation prescribes lengthy prison sentences for asylum-seekers and irregular migrants and would allow for their immediate deportation, without regard to the risk they might face of torture or other ill-treatment or persecution in the country to which they would be forcibly returned.  We believe the legislation is inconsistent with international human rights treaties and we call about the Knesset to reject the draft law and ensure that any immigration or national security provisions that are introduced into law fully respect Israel’s international human rights obligations.  Click here for more information.

* This past November, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the findings of the Goldstone Report, which concluded that both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups had committed grave violations of international law, including war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, during the three week conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.  Both groups were required to conduct domestic investigations into the allegations and submit reports back to the United Nations in early February.

Amnesty International has called upon both Israel and Hamas to fulfill their obligations in these investigations.  We attempted to ensure both sides conducted their investigations with the required independence, impartiality, transparency and effectiveness. If the reports fail on these accounts, Amnesty expects that the United States and other UN member states will fulfill their responsibility to monitor the investigations.

Feb. 2 update: Amnesty has just issued this release condemning the Israeli response to the Gaza investigations.