Investigators and judges call for impartial enquiry into Gaza war crimes

Investigators and judges call for impartial enquiry into Gaza war crimes

By staff writers
17 Mar 2009

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former Irish president and UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson and Justice Richard Goldstone are among the signatories of a global call for an investigation into the Gaza conflict.

They say they are "shocked to core" by recent events in the territory. They claim that the current UN inquiry is no substitute for a full investigation. It is not only the UN personnel that deserve truth and justice, but Palestinians and Israelis themselves.

The 16-strong group of the world's most experienced investigators and judges want a full international investigation into alleged abuses of international law during the bombardment and occupation of the Gaza Strip.

The call, supported by Amnesty International, is made in an open letter (full text below) to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well as all members of the UN Security Council.

The letter comes at a time when a UN Board of Inquiry is expected to report to Ban Ki-moon on its initial findings regarding attacks on UN facilities and personnel in the region.

The letter stresses the need for an investigation into "all serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict". It argues that the UN investigation "should not be limited only to attacks on UN facilities".

The signatories - who have led investigations of crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Darfur, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, East Timor, Lebanon and Peru - say that they have been "shocked to the core" by events in Gaza.

They argue that they "have seen at first hand the importance of investigating the truth and delivering justice for the victims of conflict and believe it is a precondition to move forward and achieve peace in the Middle East."

The letter's signatories - who include Antonio Cassese (First President and Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Head of the UN Inquiry on Darfur) and Richard Goldstone (Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and Chair of the UN Inquiry on Kosovo) - urge world leaders "to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count."

The letter calls for the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict that:

* Has a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.
* Acts in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations.
* Can provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations of the law by the relevant authorities.

Professor William A. Schabas, a former member of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a signatory to the letter, said: "The international community must apply the same standard to Gaza as it does to other conflicts and investigate all abuses of human rights and the laws of war. The current UN inquiry is no substitute for a full investigation. It is not only the UN personnel that deserve truth and justice, but Palestinians and Israelis themselves."

The signatories conclude that: "relief and reconstruction are desperately needed but, for the real wounds to heal, we must also establish the truth about crimes perpetuated against civilians on both sides."

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