UN body debates Gaza war report


Date published: 15th October 2009

Source: BBC News

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Navi Pillay in Geneva, 15 Oct

Pillay says punishing war criminals is vital for building peace

Members of the UN Human Rights Council are debating whether to endorse a report into the Israeli offensive in Gaza last winter.

The report by veteran South African judge Richard Goldstone accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

Israel rejects the Goldstone report as biased. Its UN envoy says endorsing it would be a setback for peace hopes.

The UN human rights chief has backed the report and called on both sides to investigate the alleged crimes.

“A culture of impunity continues to prevail in the occupied territories and in Israel,” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at the opening of the special meeting of the UN Human Rights Council.

She called for “impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law.”

‘Setback for peace’

Israel has already come under pressure from its allies – including the US, UK and France – to investigate the UN allegations.

But Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, said the resolution threatened to “set back hopes for peace”.

The text of the draft resolution says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should monitor Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the report.

It also contains a condemnation of Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem, another issue likely to divide the Council.

A vote is expected on Friday.

At its first debate two weeks ago, the Council decided to delay its response for six months.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at first agreed to this under pressure from the US aimed at getting the Middle East peace process back on track.

But after much public criticism at home, he demanded that the debate be reopened.

Report findings

The Goldstone report accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately harming civilians during the 22-day conflict which began on 27 December 2008.

Palestinian Hamas militants are accused of indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli civilians.

The report urges the Security Council to refer allegations to the International Criminal Court if either side fails to investigate suspects within six months.

Israel has rejected the evidence, saying it has already investigated its troops’ conduct, clearing most of the subjects of wrongdoing. Hamas has also denied committing war crimes.

Israeli military action destroyed thousands of homes, hundreds of factories and 80 official buildings in Gaza.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 people were killed in the violence between 27 December 2008 and 16 January 2009, more than half of them civilians.

Israel puts the number of deaths at 1,166 – fewer than 300 of them civilians. Three Israeli civilians and 10 Israeli soldiers were also killed.

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