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The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict commences its work

On 3 April 2009, the President of the Human Rights Council established an international independent Fact Finding Mission with the mandate “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.” (See the official UN Website of the Mission).

The Mission is headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, former member of the South African Constitutional Court and former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The three other mission members are: Professor Christine Chinkin, Ms. Hina Jilani and Colonel Desmond Travers.  As is usual practice, the Mission is supported by a Secretariat provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). (Official Bios of the Members are available here).

The appointment of the mission followed the adoption on 12 January 2009 of resolution S-9/1 by the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of its 9th Special Session. The Resolution recalls and emphasizes a number of important fundamental presuppositions that may to some have become dubious since the conflict. Namely, it holds that the Gaza Strip continues to remain occupied and that Israeli persists to uphold an illegal siege on the Strip, which is intensifying even further the existing humanitarian crisis and its egregious consequences. It strongly condemns Israel’s actions and continuing practices that result ” in massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people and systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure”.

Arguably, the Resolution in fact demands solid positive measures to be taken with regards to a number of matters that are three-fold: (i) from Israel itself to cease its military aggression, ensure the protection of Palestinian rights under international humanitarian law and human rights and a complete cessation of the occupation of the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem in furtherance of the Palestinian right to self-determination (paras. 1-7); (ii) from the international community to afford international protection of the Palestinian people and put an immediate end to the grave violations of human rights committed by Israel (paras. 8-10); and (iii) from the UN OHCHR and other mandate holders in the region to strengthen its presence and reinforce its mandate to ensure that consistent reports are presented to the UN Human Rights Council on the implementation of the resolution (paras. 11-13). Finally, it presents the independent fact finding mission established by the President of the Council and demands that all the relevant parties, and in particular the Israeli government, provide it with support in order for it to be able to “fulfill its mandate promptly and efficiently”.

During their recent week long meetings in Geneva, before their travel plans to the region, Justice Goldstone stressed the law-based approach the Mission will take in preparing its report to the Human Rights Council:

“I would like to emphasise that we will focus our investigation not on political considerations, but on an objective and impartial analysis of compliance of the parties to the conflict with their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, especially their responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians and non-combatants,” Justice Goldstone said. “I believe that an objective assessment of the issues is in the interests of all parties, will promote a culture of accountability and could serve to promote greater peace and security in the region.” (see the UN Press Release).

In a public advance notice it is noted that “The Mission will conduct its first visit to Gaza between 1 and 5 June 2009.   Pending reply from the Government of Israel, the Mission is relying on the cooperation of the Government of Egypt to facilitate entrance to Gaza through Rafah.” In response to this, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Yigal Palmor, said, “This committee has been instructed to find Israel guilty no matter what and there is no point in cooperating with such a masquerade”. He further noted that the resolution which gave the UN team its mandate “is profoundly biased” – pointing out it has only ordered a probe only into alleged Israeli violations, while ignoring Hamas, the radical Islamist movement ruling Gaza. This is despite the fact that Goldstone has clearly indicated that he wants his team to examine both sides of the conflict. The Mission notes that it will attempt to enter Gaza via Egypt if not allowed in through Israel (see the AP article).

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