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Open Letter from Palestinian Human Rights Organisations:
Where does Justice for Victims come in?

06-04-2011 00:00

As Palestinian human rights organisations, we were saddened by your 1 April 2011 op-ed “Reconsidering the Goldstone report on Israel and war crimes”.
Your conclusions that ‘civilians were not intentionally targeted [by Israel] as a matter of policy’ and that Israel, has to a ‘significant degree’ sufficiently self-investigated incidents potentially amounting to crimes in “Operation Cast Lead”, are of particular concern given the evidence that currently stands in contrast to these assertions.
In the immediate aftermath of “Operation Cast Lead,” a number of reports, including those submitted by the UN Fact-Finding Mission, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, evidenced that the many civilian casualties and the extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure during “Operation Cast Lead” cannot simply be attributed to human error.
Your recent position is supported on evidence provided by investigations published by the Israeli military.
However, as confirmed by the Committee of Experts mandated to assess domestic investigations,  Israel has failed to conduct effective investigations into serious allegations of international crimes.
The Committee of Experts’ report affirms that Israel is unwilling to conduct independent and impartial investigations into its own affairs.
Israel’s Military Advocate General himself has further pointed out the military investigations system is not a viable mechanism to investigate policy decisions.
The Committee of Experts’ report effectively concludes that “there is no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw “Operation Cast Lead.
” The most problematic issue stemming from the nature of the investigations conducted is the sense of neglect felt by the victims, who continue to live in difficult and unsafe conditions without any effective remedy.
Thus far, only three cases have been submitted for criminal prosecution.
Of these, one soldier was sentenced to seven and a half months in prison for stealing a credit card, whereas two soldiers convicted of using a nine-year-old Palestinian child as a human shield did not serve even one day in prison.
The Committee of Experts recognised that victims have experienced serious difficulties in accessing information about the progress of investigations.
For the victims, such outcomes reinforce their lack of trust in domestic investigations and their sense that genuine accountability and justice will never be achieved.
  The Fact-Finding Mission report represents a unique opportunity for victims to challenge the culture of impunity and promote adherence to international law by all the parties of this protracted conflict.
Unsurprisingly, following your op-ed, Israel is calling upon the Human Rights Council to retract the Report.
Yet, the intentional targeting of civilians, which was the central element of your op-ed, is only one among 13 headings dealing with violations of international law perpetrated by Israel during “Operation Cast Lead”.
Even if we were to retract from the intentional targeting of civilians, this would change nothing about the fundamental conclusions of the report.
The Fact-Finding Mission report continues to exist as the only tangible hope of accountability for the victims of “Operation Cast Lead”.
The grave criminal allegations outlined in the report remain unanswered by all sides.
The failure of domestic investigations necessitates recourse to international justice mechanisms, including the referral by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court.
We, the undersigned organisations, will continue to call upon the international community of States to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law  to move this legal process forward.
On behalf of the victims, we remain committed to advancing the process at the UN General Assembly in September 2011 in order to finally achieve justice and accountability for the victims.
  Yours Sincerely ·         Issam Younis General Director Al Mezan Center for Human Rights   ·         Shawan Jabarin General Director Al-Haq   ·         Rifat Kassis General Director Defence for Children International - Palestine Section   ·         Sahar Francis General Director Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association   ·         Khalil Abu Shammala General Director Aldameer Association for Human Rights   ·         Iyad Barghouti General Director Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies   ·         Maha Abu Dayieh General Director Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling   ·         Issam Aruri General Director Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights   ·         Shawqi Issa General Director Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy   ·         Najwa Darwish Acting Director Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights    

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