13 June 2007 – The head of a fact-finding mission dispatched by the United Nations Human Rights Council to Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, where an Israeli attack killed 19 Palestinian civilians last November, said today that “significant” human rights violations occurred there and called for an independent probe by national authorities.
According to the mission’s report, “it is clear that significant human rights violations resulted in Beit Hanoun from the activities of the Israel Defence Force (IDF) on and around 8 November,” and that those events must be investigated by an independent, impartial and transparent process, preferably at the national level.
Presenting the report to the Geneva-based Council today, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu said Israeli and Palestinian authorities should end the “culture of impunity and bring to account those responsible” – for the Beit Hanoun attack as well as those who have launched rockets against Israeli towns.
The high-level mission was not able to travel to Beit Hanoun due to the non-cooperation of the Israeli Government and it said its conclusions and recommendations are based on available information.
The people of Gaza must be afforded protection in compliance with international humanitarian law, the report stressed. It added that Israel should indicate, by no later than the Council’s sixth session in September, the steps it has taken to ensure that such an incident does not occur again.
The mission also highlighted the rights of victims to ongoing medical treatment, including access to counselling services, and said special account should be taken of the position of women victims and survivors.
In addition, it recommended that a mechanism be established which could provide independent monitoring and assessment of the human rights situation of civilians in conflict in the occupied Palestinian territories, and report publicly on it.
The Council established the fact-finding mission in a resolution adopted during a special session on 15 November that described Israeli military attacks as “a collective punishment of the civilians.” The mission’s tasks included assessing the situation of victims, dealing with the needs of survivors, and developing recommendations on how to protect Palestinian civilians against further Israeli attacks.
At a press conference, following his report to the Council, Mr. Tutu said “we have a passionate commitment to see a horrendous situation end,” referring to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. “We believe that it is in the interest also of Israel that the situation is resolved.”
Asked about the likelihood of the mission’s recommendations being implemented, given the “hundreds of resolutions that had already been passed to protect the Palestinian people”, he said “one hopes very fervently that decisions will be taken seriously and that people will seek to implement them. You have to work on the basis of a certain faith in other people… We hope quite deeply that this Council and its members want to see it as a credible institution that does make a difference. Otherwise we would be consumed by a cynicism.”
For its part, Israel told the Council that it had already examined the events of 8 November 2006, and issued an apology for the tragedy.
Special Rapporteur John Dugard – dispatched by the Council last July to undertake a fact-finding mission on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory – told the Council today that he too was unable to carry out the task assigned to him due to the Israeli Government’s lack of cooperation.
The Council also discussed the follow-up to the report of its Commission of Inquiry – set up last August to probe the “systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel” during its war with Hizbollah in Lebanon last summer.
In its report to the Council last December, the Commission said that Israel’s use of weapons such as cluster bombs was a flagrant violation of the right to life and property, excessive, not justified by military necessity and went beyond the arguments of proportionality. The report recommended that the Council promote initiatives and called for the mobilization of the international community to assist Lebanon’s reconstruction.
Presenting the report of her office, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour highlighted activities set up to support the reconstruction process in Lebanon, as well as specific initiatives in the areas of health, water and sanitation, protection, mine clearance and the environment.