UN experts prepare to investigate Israeli war crimes in Gaza
May 9, 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) – International human rights experts examining alleged war crimes in the Gaza Strip said on Friday they planned to visit soon, and renewed a call for Israel to support their investigation.An Israeli government official said last month that Israel would not cooperate with the United Nations inquiry into violations by Israeli troops and Hamas during the December 27-January 18 offensive in Hamas-governed Gaza.
Former UN war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone heads the team of four investigators who were appointed last month and held their first closed-door meetings in Geneva this week.
“In the course of its work, the mission intends to conduct visits to affected areas of southern Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and has requested the cooperation of the government of Israel in this regard,” the team said a statement issued by the UN in Geneva on Friday.
Goldstone stressed the investigators would take a “law-based approach,” analyzing alleged violations committed by both sides, rather than a political approach when they prepared a report for the UN Human Rights Council in July.
“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,” the South African judge said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for an investigation into whether Israeli forces committed war crimes in the coastal strip of 1.5 million people.
She raised specific concerns about the Israeli shelling of a home that killed 30 Palestinian civilians and a lack of care for young, starving children whose mothers died in the attack.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has said that the Israeli army unlawfully fired white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza, needlessly killing and injuring civilians, and cited it as evidence of war crimes.
Goldstone's fellow investigators are Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, British international law professor Christine Chinkin and retired Irish colonel Desmond Travers.
The Human Rights Council, which is dominated by Muslim countries and their allies, gave the UN inquiry team a broad mandate in a resolution adopted in January.
The experts will look into violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed in the context of the December-January military operations.
According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed in the fighting. Israel disputes those figures.