Failings of the UN War Crimes Mission to Gaza
by Peter Eyre on 22 Oct 2009 0 Comment

WE had all hoped that the findings of the UN investigation team into war crimes would have delivered swift and severe justice for the people of Gaza. The US on the other hand had other ideas and once again intervened. We have over many years seen the manipulation and interference by the United States in not allowing the UN to carry out its rightful duties. Could anyone imagine stalling the outcome of a murder case because the pending result may convict a killer and upset the family?

What gives Hilary Clinton the right to say that such an outcome may directly affect any future peace plans with Israel? Does this mean that war crimes can be swept under the carpet as she shakes hands with the perpetrators and pretends nothing ever happened? Don’t Clinton and the President understand that carrying out swift action will gain respect from the Arab world. This is truly a sad day for international justice

The extensive report highlighted the many crimes that had taken place, but backed off when it came to more serious issues. The report fell short of investigating some very serious allegations that had been made both in submissions made or pointed out to them whilst in Gaza. It was disgraceful that this investigation had been given time constraints. Since when have investigations into murder been restricted by time?

Let’s look at some of the more important aspects of this report and reveal the many flaws associated with it and how some genuine serious allegations were swept under the carpet. The remit for this investigation was to investigate events occurring between the ceasefire of 18 June 2008 and the Israeli attack on 27 December 2008 and during Operation Cast Lead.

On Page 16 Paragraph 48 of the report they talk about certain weapons used, such as White Phosphorus (WP): Based on its investigation of incidents involving the use of certain weapons such as white phosphorous and flechette missiles, the Mission, while accepting that white phosphorous is not at this stage proscribed under international law, finds that the Israeli armed forces were systematically reckless in determining its use in built-up areas. Moreover, doctors who treated patients with white phosphorous wounds spoke about the severity and sometimes untreatable nature of the burns caused by the substance. The Mission believes that serious consideration should be given to banning the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas.

The wording in the above paragraph indicates that WP is not proscribed under international law and yet when one looks towards Geneva we find the following:

- The use of White Phosphorus of densely populated areas - In violation of the Geneva Convention: Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III) 

“Certain uses of incendiary weapons, in particular the use of air delivered incendiary weapons against targets situated amongst concentrations of civilians” (Protocol III to the Conventional Weapons Convention)

I am sure we all agree these weapons were continuously rained down on the densely populated city of Gaza and yet the Mission appeared to have played down is usage and made the recommendation “The Mission believes that serious consideration should be given to banning the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas”. Didn’t they know this was already covered under the above Protocol?

Let’s go back to Page 8 Paragraph (F) when it states that forensic analysis of weapons and ammunitions collected at incident sites would be used. Again it appears that the Mission did not apply the forensic analysis it talked about. Even if one had the name “Sherlock Holmes” and walked around Gaza with a spy glass in hand you would find more evidence than these forensic scientists found.

Why did the Mission not follow up on the issue of Flechette or DIME weapons reportedly used on Gaza? The doctors explained to them their findings, they had victims with such injuries and they had a multitude of fragments to show. The report gives clear indications of their usage, but falls short of condemning Israel and obviously must leave this aspect of such an enquiry open pending further investigation. Why is this not being carried out?

In their report the following comment was made: “Mission notes that they are an area weapon incapable of discriminating between objectives after detonation. They are therefore particularly unsuitable for use in urban settings where there is reason to believe civilians may be present”. Did they again forget to mention that these weapons are also in violation of the Geneva Convention?

Whilst on the subject of weapons used what happened to the more serious allegation that DU/EU weapons had been used on Gaza? They were raised in the submissions made to the UN before their visitation and by other third parties. If one again looks at the report we will see some small reference on this topic: The Mission received allegations that depleted and non depleted uranium was used by Israeli forces in Gaza. These allegations were not further investigated by the Mission.

Of all the alleged war crimes committed the most evil act anyone could inflict on a nation is that of DU/EU weapons. They are totally indiscriminate, totally illegal and lethal. So why did such an important allegation also get swept under the carpet. Did the Missions Sherlock Homes run out of spy glasses, were their sun glasses so dark they couldn’t find any evidence, or did they simply run out of time? This report like all previous UN reports concerning DU/EU weapons usage in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon is deeply flawed.

Perhaps we must once again remind the Mission of the following:

- Weaponry containing Depleted Uranium (DU) with indiscriminate effect or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering

- Protocols I to the Geneva Conventions have an obligation to ascertain that new weapons do not violate the laws and customs of war or any other international law. The International Court of Justice considers this rule binding customary humanitarian law.

If one looks at this investigation by the Mission you will once again see that extremely serious issues of DU/EU, WP, DIME, Flechette bombs have been bypassed and become insignificant. Hence I insist that this report into Israel’s activities in Gaza should remain open pending further investigations.

The report focused on the Palestinian rocket attacks but went outside of its remit in doing so. The Missions remit clearly states to investigate events between the ceasefire period and the end of Operation Cast Lead. The report failed to highlight the fact that the Palestinians held true to the promise of ceasefire for the entire duration and only broke that ceasefire as a result of continued intimidation by Israel.

Regarding Page 31, Paragraph 103 of the report - Why did the Mission go outside its remit to quote the following – “Palestinian armed groups have launched about 8000 rockets and mortars into southern Israel since 2001”. In Paragraph 105 it again went outside its remit to refer to data received in October of 2007: “The Mission has taken particular note of the high level of psychological trauma suffered by the civilian population inside Israel. Data gathered by an Israeli organization in October 2007 found that 28.4% of adults and 72-94% of children in Sderot suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” But would it not be true to say the Palestinians have been under constant intimidation from Israel since their States inception? Would it be true to say that the trauma of constant degradation, humiliation and land-grabs goes beyond imagination.

The report even passed comment about Hamas fighting from within Gaza city and putting the civilian population at risk. Perhaps the Mission could explain how to fight and defend such a densely populated city without being amongst your own population? It is obvious the experts writing this report have no understanding of the disproportionate force that Hamas faced and had no choice but to fight from within their city. 

On Page 29 Paragraph 92 the report even extended into the West Bank: “In the West Bank, Israel has long imposed a system of movement restrictions. Movement is restricted by a combination of physical obstacles such as roadblocks, checkpoints and the Wall, but also through administrative measures such as identity cards, permits, assigned residence, laws on family reunification, and policies on the right to enter from abroad and the right of return for refugees” etc.

What the report did not point out was that the West Bank remains under total occupation and that two-thirds of this so called Palestinian enclave is not available to the rightful owners. The Israelis in their arrogant way continue to land-grab and take control of vast tracts of land. We believe much of the land on the Dead Sea side is extremely rich in natural resources and they won’t allow the rightful owners to benefit from those resources.

Finally I would like to point out that the report draws attention to the odd missile or bomb here and there, when in actual fact the strip was bombarded with a vast array of high tech weaponry. Here again the UN is playing down these serious violations and has no intention of revealing the truth behind the use of dirty weapons. Independent experts have received samples from Gaza, as they did from Lebanon, and the findings are extremely upsetting. I question the UN Mission Team - why didn’t they use forensic evidence from the many missile/bomb sites to analyse exactly what was used during the conflict and why weren’t forensic experts used as stipulated at the beginning of the report?

The Palestinian people and their brothers in the Middle East should apply pressure on the UN to proceed without delay and bring justice to the people of Gaza. The manipulation by the US and the announced delay is appalling.

Peter Eyre, a former British Naval officer, worked at NATO headquarters, and spent a lot of time in the Middle East and South East Asia as a petroleum consultant; he lives in the UK and writes regularly for the Palestine Telegraph

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