U.N. rights council backs Gaza ‘war crimes’ report

Israel's military campaign in Gaza, called Operation Cast Lead, lasted three weeks.
The United Nations Council for Human Rights approved a controversial report Friday which accuses Israel and Hamas of “actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity” during the December-January war in Gaza.

The report, based on a fact-finding mission led by former South African jurist Richard Goldstone, calls for both parties to independently investigate the alleged human rights violations cited in the report. Friday’s vote at the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, was 25-6, with 11 abstentions. The hostilities began December 27, 2008, when Israel launched an offensive against Gaza militants for their ongoing firing of rockets against southern Israeli towns. The fighting ended January 18. The council plans to forward the endorsed report to the U.N. General Assembly for its consideration. The report asks the U.N. Security Council to monitor the probes. If that group decides the investigations have not been done satisfactorily within six months, the report recommends that they refer the issue to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israel rejected the resolution, calling it “one-sided,” and noted there were fewer favorable votes Friday than when the council voted to set up the Goldstone mission. “Israel expresses its gratitude to those states which supported its position, and to those which, through their vote, expressed their opposition to this unjust Resolution which ignores the murderous attacks perpetrated by the Hamas and other terrorist organizations against Israeli civilians,” the Israeli government said in a written statement. “The Resolution also ignores the unprecedented precautions taken by Israeli forces in order to avoid harming civilians, as well as the cynical exploitation of civilians as human shields by the terrorist groups.

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“The adoption of this resolution by the UNHRC impairs both the effort to protect human rights in accordance with international law, and the effort to promote peace in Middle East. This resolution provides encouragement for terrorist organizations worldwide and undermines global peace. “Israel will continue to exercise its right to self-defense, and take action to protect the lives of its citizens.” The Palestinian Authority government of Mahmoud Abbas supported the report. That government does not rule Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. “The most important thing now is the followup,” said Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator. “The followup here is that we want to ensure the non reoccurrence of the massacre against the Palestinian people. We have the right to defend ourselves as Palestinians and we are defending ourselves through the international law.” Voting against the report, which was released last month, were the United States, Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine. Douglas M. Griffiths, the U.S. representative to the council, said the United States wants to “express our disappointment at the outcome of this resolution.” France made a last-minute attempt to delay the vote for three hours so it could try to change the minds of supporters, but they were only given a half hour after Egypt objected to such a long delay. Among those voting for the report were China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa and Argentina. “This is a major step forward for upholding the very ethics of humanity and human values,” said council member Sabri Saidam, adviser to Abbas. “And a great message for the victims. “Those that carried out the crimes thought that they can escape punishment. This is also a clear manifestation of the Palestinian people’s determination to bring justice to those who have suffered from Israeli aggression. This is a a moral step of the highest moral value.” Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, warned, “Our people will never forgive the international community if they leave criminals or perpetrators of crime to enjoy impunity outside the scope of justice.” In a speech before the vote, Israeli Ambassador Aharon Leshno said, “Do you support the importance of the promotion of peace between Israel and Palestinians If you do … you must reject today’s proposal.” The Human Rights Council received the report September 29, but took no action, after a request by the Palestinian Authority to defer discussion for six months. Abbas came under withering domestic criticism for the move and was accused of succumbing to Israeli and American pressure to drop the issue. Abbas reversed course this past week and, in a televised address, told Palestinians that he was seeking immediate debate within the council and vowed to work “to punish everyone who was responsible for the hideous crimes committed against our children, our men and women — especially in our dear Gaza.” Khraishi said Israel had rebuffed the Palestinian Authority’s conciliatory move to defer debate on the report and instead answered “with even more grave violations of the rights of Palestinians” in the form of restrictions of movement and housing demolitions in east Jerusalem. The Goldstone report goes beyond the Gaza conflict. It “strongly condemns” measures taken by Israel limiting Palestinian access to their properties and holy sites “on the basis of national origin, religion, sex, age or any other discriminatory ground.” It further condemns “Israeli violations of human rights in Occupied East Jerusalem, particularly the confiscation of lands and properties, the demolishing of houses and private properties, the construction and expansion of settlements, the continuous construction of the separation wall, changing the demographic and geographic character of East Jerusalem, the restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Palestinian citizens of East Jerusalem, as well as the continuous digging and excavation works in and around Al-Aqsa mosque and its vicinity.” There is an ongoing dispute about the number of people killed in the military offensive that Israel called Operation Cast Lead. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights put the death toll at 1,419 and said 1,167 of those were “non-combatants.” The Israeli military released its own figures earlier this year, saying that 1,166 people were killed, 60 percent of whom were “terror operatives.”