UN human rights council backs Gaza war crimes report
A vote to endorse a highly critical report (pdf) on the Gaza war passed at the UN human rights council in Geneva today, despite opposition from the US and Israel.
The council approved a resolution endorsing the report, which was written by the South African judge Richard Goldstone and accused Israel and the Islamist group Hamas of war crimes during the Gaza war.
It said the report should go to the UN general assembly for consideration. The resolution condemned “the recent Israeli violations of human rights in occupied east Jerusalem”, referring to recent demolitions of Palestinian houses and excavation work near the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount.
The vote passed with 25 votes in favour, six against and 11 abstentions.
The US said the report was “flawed” and voted against. US diplomat Douglas Griffiths told the council Washington was disappointed by the vote.
Britain and France did not take part in the vote, having unsuccessfully argued for more time to reach an agreed resolution.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are among the 47 nations with seats on the human rights council, but both had worked hard to influence the outcome of the vote. The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, wanted the council to reject the Goldstone report.
“Israel’s only real crime is that it does not have an automatic majority in the UN,” he said yesterday. “We hope that all responsible countries will … vote against that decision, which aids and encourages terror and strikes at peace.”
Douglas Griffiths, the US delegate at the council, said yesterday that Washington wanted Israel to carry out its own investigations. It was important, he said, to “be mindful of the larger context of ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state”.
Under intense US pressure, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, initially dropped his efforts to secure a vote endorsing the report. Instead he decided to put off the vote for another six months. But that was greeted with such an outcry among Palestinians that Abbas quickly backtracked and called for a special session of the human rights council to hold a vote.
The Israeli website Ynet News today quoted him as saying that the vote helped provide “leverage for protecting the Palestinians against Israel”.
Israel’s foreign ministry is expected to issue a statement later today condemning the vote. Officials have said it was “unjust and biased and does not contribute to the peace process”, according to the broadcaster al-Jazeera.
Goldstone’s report accused both sides of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity and said there may even be individual criminal responsibility over the killing of civilians. Around 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in the three-week war.
Goldstone’s recommendations were that the human rights council should endorse his findings and then pass his report to the UN security council, the general assembly and the prosecutor of the international criminal court. He said both Israel and Hamas should be given six months to conduct their own “appropriate investigations that are independent and in conformity with international standards”. If either side failed to investigate properly, he said, the security council should pass the case on to the prosecutor of the international criminal court.
Hamas looks unlikely to investigate its actions during the war and Netanyahu has already insisted he will not allow any Israelis to face war crimes trials. The US would almost certainly veto any decision critical of Israel if the issue reached a vote in the security council.
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