A shocking story: Ma’an News Agency reported from Chicago today that “Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said on Monday the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged him to step down after he criticized the PA’s treatment of a UN war crimes report”.
Both the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon — a cautious bureaucrat if ever there was one — and the more-willing-to-take-risks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have backed the Goldstone report on last winter’s Gaza war that at least two (or three) and perhaps four (or all five) of the UN Security Council’s Permanent Members don’t want to discuss.
This is an unusual situation.
The UN Security Council is not on the immediate horizon in any case — the Goldstone report itself has recommended that both Israel and Hamas be given six months to set up their own independent investigations before the UN Security Council would be asked to get involved. So far, the U.S., Russia, and now reportedly China are now opposed to discussing the Goldstone report in the Security Council. The UN Security Council could, if it agreed, eventually ask the International Criminal Court in the Hague to look at certain aspects of the Israeli military operation, and of the Palestinian firing of rockets, mortars, and missiles at Israeli territory from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva voted last week to “recommend” the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly, which may consider the matter before its current session is adjourned in December.
South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who worked against the apartheid system through the country’s legal system, and who subsequently was appointed by the UN as a former prosecutor for the International Tribunals on the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was working under a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council when he headed its Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza war.
South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN Fact-Finding Mission on last winter’s Gaza war, has published an introspective piece in the Jerusalem Post today, in which he said that: “Over the past 20 years, I have investigated serious violations of international law in my own country, South Africa, in the former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda and the alleged fraud and theft by governments and political leaders in a number of countries in connection with the United Nations Iraq Oil for Food program. In all of these, allegations reached the highest political echelons. In every instance, I spoke out strongly in favor of full investigations and, where appropriate, criminal prosecutions. I have spoken out over the years on behalf of the International Bar Association against human rights violations in many countries, including Sri Lanka, China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. I would have been acting against those principles and my own convictions and conscience if I had refused a request from the United Nations to investigate serious allegations of war crimes against both Israel and Hamas in the context of Operation Cast Lead. As a Jew, I felt a greater and not a lesser obligation to do so.”
However, Goldstone laments, “Five weeks after the release of the Report of the Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, there has been no attempt by any of its critics to come to grips with its substance. It has been fulsomely approved by those whose interests it is thought to serve and rejected by those of the opposite view. Those who attack it do so too often by making personal attacks on its authors’ motives and those who approve it rely on its authors’ reputations. Israeli government spokesmen and those who support them have attacked it in the harshest terms and, in particular my participation, in a most personal and hurtful way. The time has now come for more sober reflection on what the report means and appropriate Israeli reactions to it”.
Goldstone also wrote that “In Gaza, I was surprised and shocked by the destruction and misery there. I had not expected it. I did not anticipate that the IDF would have targeted civilians and civilian objects. I did not anticipate seeing the vast destruction of the economic infrastructure of Gaza including its agricultural lands, industrial factories, water supply and sanitation works. These are not military targets. I have not heard or read any government justification for this destruction”.
Doesn’t he watch TV? Didn’t he see any of the news reports about the war? And hasn’t he heard or read the Israeli government explanations that Hamas was entirely at fault, and either directly or indirectly responsible for every last bit of the destruction?
The Palestinian decision to “withdraw” support for a resolution they were pushing in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva remains unexplained — at least, to the Palestinian people — on Friday night.
The draft resolution would have called for support of the report submitted by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed to head the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on last winter’s Gaza. The resolution would also have referral the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly for action. Instead, another resolution was adopted to postpone consideration of the report’s findings.
The news was leaked by Israeli media on Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon in Geneva it become official: the Human Rights Council members agreed to “postpone” consideration of the report’s conclusions until next March, 2010.
Even though Friday is the normal Palestinian weekend day off, there was no effort to explain to the Palestinian people why their leadership “withdraw” backing for an immediate vote by the UN Human Rights Council.
Instead, there was confusion and disarray.
A surprising report in Haaretz on Thursday night: Israel is now off the hook at the United Nations, because ” The Palestinian Authority on Thursday decided to drop its draft resolution condemning Israel’s conduct during the Gaza Strip offensive, in effect deferring its adoption of the Goldstone’s Commission report accusing both sides of war crimes. The PA had originally planned to present to the Human Rights Council for a vote in Geneva on Friday. The decision not to pursue the resolution means that any similar effort will have to wait until at least March, a political source in Jerusalem said. The source added that the decision appears to be based on pressure from the Obama administration, exerted by way of U.S. representatives in Geneva, as well as through contacts between Washington and Ramallah. The Obama administration has told the Palestinians that a renewal of the peace process must come before any diplomatic initiatives based on the Goldstone report, or any other initiatives that could stifle efforts to renew Israel-PA negotiations. This Haaretz report can be read in full here .
(Maybe PA officials also had their own reasons to drop their support for the Goldstone report — maybe somebody in Ramallah finally actually read the report, and discovered that the Goldstone mission also concluded that there have been violations of human rights, by all sides, all over the occupied Palestinian territory.)
South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, today defended before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva his fact-finding mission’s nearly 600-page long report on the 22-day Israeli military offensive in Gaza (27 December to 18 January).
He said he regretted that regret that “the response to date of the Government of Israel avoids dealing with the substance of the report”, which was published in an advance form on 15 September. Instead, he noted, the report “has been rejected in vehement terms by the Government of Israel. The call for transparent investigations has been rejected. The Government of Israel wishes to restrict its investigations to secret inquiries by the Military investigating itself. That would clearly not satisfy the legitimate expectations of the many victims of the Israeli military operations”.
The webcast of the meeting can be seen here .
In his statement to the Human Rights Council today, Justice Goldstone said that “The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza. The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel … The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the ‘Hamas infrastructure’. If ‘infrastructure’ were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of IHL [International Humanitarial Law] built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets. These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes”.
Two very rare events — public hearings into the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead “and the circumstances surrounding it” — are over.
The hearings were held by the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict that was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is headed by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone.
The hearings were held over two days in Geneva, followed shortly afterward, for those who could not travel to Gaza, by two days in Geneva.
A UN press release reported that “Over the last month, members of the Mission and the Secretariat supporting it have been conducting a thorough investigation on the ground, including in Gaza. Members have also traveled to Amman, Jordan, to interview witnesses and meet with people and organizations from Israel and the West Bank. The Mission has received a large number of submissions from interested organizations and individuals in response to its public call for submissions”.
The strength of these hearings is the similiarity to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both Goldstone and South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu were leaders of the Truth and Reconciliation process. But, a very significant aspect of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings is that those guilty of, and responsible for, crimes against humanity and other cruel and criminal acts also testified publicly, and almost all expressed deep remorse and contrition. That has not happened in the Fact-finding Mission’s hearings.
Now, Goldstone told journalists, written questions would be sent to the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas authorities seeking further information to clarify testimony, he said.
Amnesty International, in a major new report, documents Israel’s use of battlefield weapons against a civilian population trapped in Gaza, with no means of escape.
The report presents evidence gathered by Amnesty International delegates, including a military expert, during field research in Gaza and southern Israel in January and February.
The report is designed, in part, to funnel information to the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone. It is one of a series of recent reports, including by Human Rights Watch and by a group of Israel-based human rights organizations, all intended for the same purpose.
The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa, has issued a call to “all interested persons and organizations to submit relevant information and documentation that will assist in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate”.
The Goldstone mission, an International Independent Fact Finding Mission established by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, is mandated “to investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 whether before, during, or after”.
The Mission said that “events since June 2008 are particularly relevant” to the “armed conflict that took place between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009” — the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead.
Israel and Hamas began a cease-fire in June 2008 that was variously called either “open-ended”, or for six months, renewable. At the time, Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said that they were simultaneously preparing for a big operation in Gaza, if necessary — apparently seeking to assuage Israeli concern that such a cease-fire would only be used by Hamas to build up its military potential
The Mission said that “Due to time constraints the Mission would be grateful to receive submissions in English, but will also accept submissions in Arabic or Hebrew.” — presented as concisely as possible.
It said that “Unless otherwise indicated by the author, the Mission will assume that submissions can be made public. Please indicate whether you wish parts or whole submissions to be treated as confidential”.
The information can be submitted by email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by postal mail to the Secretariat of the Fact-Finding Mission c/o OHCHR, G. Motta 48, Geneva 1202, Switzerland.
Earlier, the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict advised that “anyone wishing to make contact with the Mission during its visit to Gaza may contact the Mission by telephone at: (+970) 0597 444 158 or (+970) 0597 444 159.
The deadline for submission is 30 June 2009.
Our earlier post on the Goldstone Mission’s work in Gaza can be read here
The UN’s Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, will hold public hearings in Gaza City today (Sunday 28 June) and tomorrow (Monday 29 June) in which witnesses, victims, and experts will describe what happened to them during Israel’s 22-day Operation Cast Lead.
The mission’s mandate is to “investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”
According to an unusual Public Advance Notice it issued last month: “Measures are being taken to ensure the careful and safe handling, communication and preservation of the Mission’s records and files. The information collected by the Mission is, and will remain, the property of the United Nations. Wherever necessary, the Mission will take precautionary measures necessary to ensure the safety or protection of victims, witnesses, sources and any other persons cooperating with the Mission”.
Because of security arrangements in Gaza, the media and the public will not be admitted into the actual hearing room at UNRWA Headquartes in Gaza — which was subject to a white phosphorus attack on 15 January — but will only be able to view the proceedings at a separate location, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Tal Alhawwa, next to the Al Quds Hospital.
Members of the Fact Finding Mission will interview those coming to testify, and have allocated roughly one hour per witness/victim/expert.
The list of names of those testifying will not be revealed in advance, but two television crews contracted by the UN will record the hearings, which will be screened live for the public and the media. Al-Jazeera television will probably be broadcasting at least some of the testimony live, and CNN may as well.
UPDATE: Al-Jazeera International is only covering these hearings via live stand-ups during its regular news broadcasts, there is no live feed.
Due to technical complications, there will be no live internet webcast, Doune Porter said in a telephone interview on Saturday evening, but the video will be archived and posted for webcast on demand, on the internet website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (www.ohchr.org), in about a week’s time.
The times of the public hearings in Gaza local time are as follows:
Sunday 28 June
08:30 – 13:00 and 14:30 – 16:30 (05:30 – 10:00 and 11:30 – 13:30 GMT)
Monday 29 June
08:30 – 13:00 and 14:30 – 17:00 (05:30 – 10:00 and 11:30 – 14:00 GMT)
For witnesses/victims/experts who are unable to travel to Gaza, there will be two days of hearings in Geneva in early July.
Israei is still not cooperating with this Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict led by Justice Goldstone — see our earlier report for background, posted here.