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Rights group outraged at Ban for dragging war crimes issue

Feb. 5, 2010 8:39 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 7, 2010 12:05 P.M.)
Jerusalem - Ma'an - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said "No determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned," during the meeting of the General Assembly on Thursday, prompting an outcry from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Ban made the statement, PCHR said, "despite the fact that Resolution A/Res/61/10 explicitly called for the Secretary-General to 'report on the implementation of the present resolution'."

The organization, based in Gaza, continued, saying "As representatives of the victims of the atrocities committed during the Israeli attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, PCHR is shocked and appalled by this lack of responsibility."

Ban's statements came after Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto Government in Gaza all handed over short reports detailing alleged progress on investigations into Justice Richard Goldstone's allegations of war crimes uncovered during his summer fact-finding mission.

Israel celebrates UN 'support'

Shortly after Ban delivered his address, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak claimed that "Ban Ki-Moon was very impressed by the presentations given in UN by the military advocate general and even mentioned this to me personally," the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanot reported.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry on Friday defended Israel's response "This document completely expresses Israel's commitment to conduct an honest internal probe according to the standards of international law," according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

"Despite the difficult conditions of fighting against Hamas terror, Israel has stringently abided by international norms and will continue to do in the future - though our foremost obligation is to protect our citizens."

In its report released Friday afternoon, PCHR stated, however, that "investigations carried out by Israeli authorities do not, in any way, fulfill the demands of customary international law, the Goldstone Report, or UN General Assembly Resolution A/Res/64/10."

The statement explained that "the Israeli system – as it relates to Palestinian victims of Israeli violations – does not meet the necessary international standards with respect to the effective administration of justice. The hierarchical nature of the military, the ineffective manner in which investigations are conducted, the lack of civilian oversight – as epitomized by the wide margin of discretion awarded by the Israeli Supreme Court – and the ineffectiveness of such oversight when it does occur, all combine to fundamentally frustrate the pursuit of justice."

Supporting their claim that military probes were "inappropriate and legally inadequate," PCHR noted that Israeli military investigations had opened so far 150 investigations of which 36 were criminal investigations. Of those, the organization said, seven were dismissed before the report was submitted to the UN for "lack of evidence."

"PCHR alone submitted 450 criminal cases," the statement reminded.

Citing their "long-standing experience as well as that of Israeli and international human rights organizations," PCHR said it was "evident that accountability cannot be pursued through the Israeli legal system."

PA, de facto governments also criticized

Criticism from PCHR extended to the PA and de facto government. Its report noted that "both the authorities in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank have failed to conduct the required investigations, and have thus violated the terms of the General Assembly Resolution."

Following a 16 October announcement by the de facto government that it would begin investigations, officials handed over a report on Wednesday.

PCHR reviewed the report and "found it to be disappointing; it merely confirmed that the government in Gaza has failed to establish an credible, impartial investigation committee to lead an inquiry into the allegations of the Goldstone Report."

Commenting on the PA efforts that started in January, PCHR said "The efforts came far too late and exhibited a lack of professionalism."

Moreover, the organization said, investigations into allegations of war crimes in Gaza is "impossible from the West Bank as a result of the current political split and the establishment of such a Commission merely pays lip service to the rule of law."

PCHR called the actions of both governments a "missed opportunity," and said "such politically irresponsible behavior can only result in the undermining of the efforts exerted by the UN Fact-Finding Mission."

In light of the failures of all three governments, PCHR recommenced that "the General Assembly should request the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to refer the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory to the International Criminal Court."

Israel, Hamas, Palestinian side respond

Upon revelation of allegations of war crimes in the Goldstone report, Israel initially refused to undertake independent investigations into accusations, which the report called for in its conclusion. Last week, Barak called the report "distorted, biased and unbalanced."

The Hamas government in Gaza also expressed reticence in conducting its own probe, stating that it had not been responsible for war crimes.

The British journalist Robert Fisk said on Tuesday in the British daily The Independent that "Israel's gravest mistake in recent years was to refuse to contribute to Goldstone's report on the 2008-09 slaughter in Gaza. A 'foolish boycott', the daily Haaretz called it. A disaster, according to Israel's liberal left, who rightly spotted that it placed Israel on the level of Hamas."

White phosphorus

On Monday, Israeli media reported that Israeli findings compounded allegations that white phosphorus munitions were deployed toward an UNRWA compound in Gaza during last year's devastating offensive, with two senior officers being disciplined as a result of authorizing the use of white phosphorus.

However, the Israeli military quickly denied the reports that the officers in question had been summoned for disciplinary action.

Goldstone is 'traitor'

Political commentator Alan Dershowitz slammed Goldstone in an interview with the Israeli Army Radio dubbing him a traitor to the Jewish people on Sunday. "The Goldstone report is a defamation written by an evil, evil man," he said.

Delaying the vote

Despite an overall unwillingness by all concerned parties to launch independent investigations, when the UN General Assembly called on Israel and the Palestinians in November to submit its findings, asking Ki-moon to reply within three months, all sides moved to respond.

The Palestinian Authority was widely criticised for having delayed its vote before the general assembly on the Goldstone report, despite the majority of members calling for its findings to be investigated. A Palestinian commission in January into the events that led to the delay revealed a convoluted time-line of events, with President Mahmoud Abbas eventually claiming responsibility.

However, Israeli media reported that Israeli security officials had threatened Abbas into staying his vote or the West Bank could see military action on a similar scale to Operation Cast Lead, Haaretz reported.

Meanwhile, Israel set precedent in January when it offered approximately 10 million US dollars in compensation to the UN for damages sustained to its structures during its military offensive.
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