CIHRS calls for triggering international accountability mechanisms to deter perpetrators and provide remedies to victims

1_2 copy - CopyThe Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and several international and Palestinian organizations have, over the past two days, discussed the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), and ways to ensure justice and accountability for crimes committed, in light of the outcomes of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report on the Gaza conflict in 2014, submitted to the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council, currently convening in Geneva.

On Monday, 29 June, CIHRS, in cooperation with the Al-Haq, Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights, and the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem presented an oral intervention before the HRC as part of the interactive dialogue with the CoI. The intervention affirmed the need to put an end to the impunity enjoyed by Israel in regard to international crimes committed against Palestinian civilians. It urged all states, particularly those that have ratified the Rome Statute, to uphold their legal obligations in supporting the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and try all crimes committed during the conduct of hostilities, and implement the recommendation of the Col on enabling Universal Jurisdiction in national courts to ensure accountability for crimes and violations committed in the Gaza Strip.

The UN inquiry committee stated in its report that “impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces.”

This is not a coincidence, as the rights organizations noted in their intervention, since “a complex web of laws and regulations has created a system designed to ensure impunity for violations committed against Palestinians.”

In the same context, CIHRS organized a press conference during which leading Palestinian rights organizations shared their views on the report. Speakers called on the international community to implement the report’s recommendations, in particular by supporting the Palestinian ICC bid, in efforts to pressuring Israel to halt its ongoing violence and crimes against the Palestinian people.

In addition, on the sidelines of the HRC session, CIHRS, in cooperation with several Palestinian organizations and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), organized a panel discussion on Monday evening, 29 June, on the role of the HRC in promoting accountability for crimes committed in the OPT. Speakers included Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq; Issam Younis, the director of Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights; and Rania Madi from Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. Raji Surani, director of the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, could not attend the event due to restrictions on travel in the context of the illegal Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip. In a symbolic gesture, his seat remained empty to condemn the difficulty Palestinian rights advocates face in attending UN HRC sessions. The discussion was moderated by Nicolas Agostini, FIDH representative to the UN in Geneva.

The speakers welcomed the report of the CoI but focused in particular on follow-up actions. They urged the HRC to take measures to ensure the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations and to hold to account any individual proven, especially through documentation of the report, to have been involved in crimes and violations. They further urged that the findings of the report be used by the ICC to ensure accountability for crimes, especially in light of the complicity of the Israeli judiciary and its reluctance to hold perpetrators to account. They also asked that decisive measures be taken to end the siege on Gaza and end the illegal expansion of settlements in the OPT.

About 70 participants attended the side event, among them representatives from the delegations of Brazil, the EU, the US, Ireland, Tunisia, Libya, and Palestine.

On 30 June, CIHRS in cooperation with the Defense of Children International Palestine, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Medical Aid for Palestinians, organized another side event entitled “No More Impunity: Gaza under Attack.” The panel discussion tackled the human rights situation in Gaza by examining testimonies and documentation of crimes against Palestinians during the attack on the Gaza Strip in 2014.

The meeting, also held on the sidelines of the 29th session of the HRC, hosted Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sitta, Head of Plastics at the American University in Beirut and who was heavily involved in medical assistance efforts in the Gaza Strip during last year’s attacks; Ivan Karakashian, advocacy unit coordinator at Defense of Children International Palestine; Sawsan Zaher, a senior lawyer with the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah); and Nuriya Oswald, international advocacy officer at Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights. Bob Jones, campaigns and research officer at Medical Aid for Palestinians, moderated the discussion.

During the discussion participants detailed the deteriorating conditions in the Gaza Strip, especially with regard to the health sector and children’s rights. According to the speakers, the health sector in Gaza is on the brink of total collapse, particularly in the context of siege and the recurring assaults targeting medical facilities and health workers, which is creating additional risks to civilians and children. In the most recent assault, Israel engaged in an extensive targeting of children, with more than 500 children killed, the majority of them under the age of 12.

Despite the continued violations and crimes, impunity for perpetrators persists. Most of the cases referred by rights organizations to the Israeli military prosecution have either been disregarded or the investigation closed without adequate explanation. Whilst a small number of cases are still pending, the closure of the case of the four children killed on a Gaza beach[1], which drew international condemnation at the time, is yet another example not only to the Israeli judiciary’s complicity but also Israel’s lack of willingness to hold those who target civilians, their property, and public facilities, especially medical facilities, accountable.

[1] The CoI has also expressed deep concern regarding the closing of this case, see:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16119&LangID=E

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