Human Rights Watch on blockade + on Shalit

Human Rights Watch has just sent out an email that started out by criticizing the weak mandate that it said undermines the credibility of the three-member panel appointed by the government to look into the Freedom Flotilla and also at the Israeli naval raid on the Flotilla at sea (in which at least 9 Turkish nationals were killed).

In the statement, Human Rights Watch said that this panel “is not a full commission of inquiry as set out in Israeli law and cannot subpoena witnesses or officials. Under its mandate, the panel must instead rely on requests for documents and ‘summaries of operational investigations’ conducted by the Israeli military itself to determine what military personnel did or were ordered to do during the May 31 interdiction of the flotilla”. And Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “Israel claims the panel is independent, but insists that it accept the military’s version of events”.

The statement also noted that “In late May 2009, the UN presented a proposal to complete US$80 million worth of housing, health, and education projects that had been stalled for two years due to the blockade. The proposal would have allowed Israeli authorities to extensively monitor imported materials, including vetting construction contractors and storage sites for the materials, as well as periodically photographing construction sites; Israel rejected the proposal. After nine months of negotiations, Israel approved only a few UN projects, including recently the completion of 151 housing units”.

The proposals to modify the sanctions that the Israeli military administers against the Gaza Strip via the land crossings include provisions for the UN (UNRWA? UNOPs?) to oversee the use of any construction materials the military may decide to allow in. Does this make the UN complicit in the siege?

The HRW message also noted that the treatment of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may constitute torture: “Israel has cited Shalit’s detention as well as Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel and to renounce violence as justifications for the blockade. Those who have willfully conducted or ordered deliberate or indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians are responsible for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. And Hamas’s prolonged incommunicado detention of Staff Sergeant Shalit is cruel and inhumane and may amount to torture under international law. Shalit is unable to communicate with his family or to receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, violations of the laws of war by one side to an armed conflict do not legitimate violations by the other, Human Rights Watch said. Hamas officials refused Human Rights Watch’s request to visit Shalit and check on his conditions of confinement during a meeting in Gaza in May, saying that they would not take the risk that his location could be discovered, even though Human Rights Watch had offered to travel to the site blindfolded and to accept any other security precautions that Hamas wanted”…

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