Israeli and Palestinian probes into Gaza conflict not sufficient, say UN experts

21 September 2010 – A United Nations monitoring committee said today that Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the deadly conflict in the Gaza Strip that ended early last year have so far been inadequate. In March, the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish a panel of independent experts to “monitor and assess any domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian side” in light of the allegations raised last year in the report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza conflict – known as the Goldstone Report.  That report alleged that both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants were guilty of serious human rights violations and breaches of humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead, which took place from December 2008 to January 2009. “The parties responded, albeit in a different manner, to the call of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to meet their obligations to investigate allegations of crimes detailed in the Fact-Finding Mission report,” said Christian Tomuschat, chair of the committee of experts. “The investigations, however, remain incomplete in some cases or fall significantly short of meeting international standards in others,” he added in a news release.
The Committee, which issued its report today, said that while it received no response to its numerous requests for cooperation and access to Israel and the West Bank from the Israeli authorities, it did receive cooperation and assistance from the Palestinian side. “A lack of cooperation from Israel has hampered the Committee’s assessment of investigations into serious violations of war crimes,” Mr. Tomuschat stated. “Israel has published a lot of information on their investigations, but its refusal to cooperate with the Committee made it impossible to assess whether inquiries met international standards.” Despite the lack of cooperation, the Committee was able to draw some conclusions based on official submissions and numerous interviews with military experts and Palestinian witnesses with knowledge of Israeli investigations. “Israel conducted investigations into many incidents, but only four resulted in criminal indictments, one of which led to a conviction for a credit card theft,”  Mr. Tomuschat noted. The Committee found that these inquiries did not cover all allegations made by the Fact-Finding Mission. It found that Israel had not undertaken investigations into high-level decision-makers and had also failed to investigate claims of human rights violations in the West Bank alleged to have occurred at the time of the conflict.

As for the Palestinian side, the Committee met with members of the independent Commission set up by the Palestinian Authority to investigate alleged human rights violations committed by public officials in the West Bank. “The Committee concluded that those investigations conformed with international standards. However, the Commission was unable to investigate fully allegations of serious violations of war crimes occurring in Gaza due to difficulties the Commission faced in accessing the Gaza Strip,” the experts stated. The UN Committee was however able to assess the work of two Committees of Inquiry established by Hamas, the de facto authorities in Gaza. The first, made up of Hamas officials, “made no serious effort to address the allegations raised by the Fact-Finding Mission,” it stated. The second body provided information on measures taken to redress violations in Gaza, but failed to substantiate assertions that political prisoners had been released and criminal prosecutions had taken place, the experts added. The UN Committee will present its report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on 27 September.

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