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United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG)
29 June 2009
UN FACT FINDING MISSION ON THE GAZA CONFLICT - FACT FINDING MISSION COMPLETES TWO DAYS OF PUBLIC HEARINGS IN GAZA
29 June 2009
June 29, 2009, Gaza City – After hearing two days of sometimes harrowing testimony – from witnesses, victims and experts – the United Nations Fact finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict has completed its first round of public hearings, which are part of its ongoing investigations. “The aim of the public hearings was to let the face of human suffering be seen and to let the voices of the victims be heard”, said Head of the Mission Justice Richard Goldstone as he concluded the hearings.
The mandate of the Fact Finding Mission is to provide an independent and impartial investigation into all alleged violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law in the context of the 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 military operations, whether they took place before, during or after those dates. Justice Goldstone noted that he and his team would consider all information received by the Mission, whether it be during the public hearings or as part of the continuing investigations, before compiling its report in August.
However, he said that “As fellow human beings we would like to put on record how deeply moved we were by many of the accounts of profound suffering and grief we have heard in the last two days.” He also remarked on the dignity and composure of so many witnesses in very difficult circumstances.
During the two-day public hearings, the first to be held in such a UN inquiry, Mission members heard from victims, witnesses and experts on the death and destruction in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead and of the effects of the Israeli Blockade and Siege on of the people of Gaza. The testimony included accounts from people who had been badly injured in attacks and from victims who had lost many members of their families, as well as from people who had lost their livelihoods. Experts gave testimonies on the psycho-social effects, in particular on health, children and education, and on women.
Justice Goldstone noted that there were several people who would have liked to have spoken at the public hearings but who had declined because they felt there was too high a risk in doing so.
He underlined that the hearings form a part of the United Nations activities in promoting and defending human rights and that the Mission members “Fully expect and require that all of those who have participated in the hearings are afforded the full protection due to them as recognised in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.”
Appearing at the public hearings had not been without cost to the victims, he said. “Every re-telling of their ordeals and tragedies carries a heavy emotional toll as well as personal security risk. We are fully aware of this. We express our deep gratitude for their willingness to share their painful testimonies with us as we endeavour to identify the truth of allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”
Members of the Mission had wished to hold hearings in Southern Israel, where the population has been on the receiving end of rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, and to hold hearings on the West Bank . That is not possible as the Government of Israel is so far not cooperating with the Mission. The Mission members will therefore hold public hearings in Geneva , on July 6 and 7, where they will hear from victims of the alleged violations in Israel and on the West Bank , where there are also allegations of violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead.
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More information about the Fact Finding Mission is available on the official OHCHR Website of the Mission .
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