Thursday 27 October 2016

UN Names 3-Member Panel to Probe Gaza Conflict War Crimes

Yoshita Singh/United Nations
File - AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

The UN has named three experts as members of an independent inquiry commission that will probe possible human rights violations and war crimes committed, particularly in the Gaza Strip, during the recent conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The United Nations Human Rights Council announced that London-based British-Lebanese human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, professor of international criminal law William Schabas and Doudou Diene from Senegal, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, will form the independent Commission of Inquiry.

The Council had decided, by a vote of 29 countries, including India, in favour, with 17 abstentions and a sole negative vote by the United States, to launch the inquiry at its emergency meeting in July.

The resolution requested that the commission present a written report to the Human Rights Council at its session in March 2015.

The panel would investigate purported violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly in the Gaza Strip since the conflict began on June 13.

Even as the UN named the panel, Alamuddin, who is engaged to be married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, said in a statement that she would not be taking up the new UN role.

"I was contacted by the UN about this for the first time this morning. I am honoured to have received the offer, but given existing commitments –- including eight ongoing cases –- unfortunately could not accept this role," Alamuddin said.

"I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavours," she said in the statement quoted by the Guardian.

Alamuddin said she is "horrified" by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian casualties that have been caused, and "strongly believes that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed."

Alamuddin specialises in international law and human rights and has worked at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and as legal adviser to the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Schabas, who hails from Canada, is a professor of international criminal law and human rights and served on the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission until 2004.

Schabas, a member of the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in Human Rights, will serve as the commission's Chair. Diene was the United Nations Special Reporter on contemporary forms of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance from 2002 to 2008.

He also served as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Cote d'Ivoire from 2011 to 2014.

The commission will "investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since June 13 2014, whether before, during or after, to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible."

It will also make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, with a view to avoid, end impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable. It will also make recommendations on ways to protect civilians against any further assaults.

At least 1,948 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in the conflict, along with 67 Israelis, according to figures cited by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In addition, some 425,000 people are seeking shelter either in UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities, government shelters or with host families.

Around 11,855 housing units in Gaza have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks and another 36,000 have suffered damage, according to OCHA.

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