|Richard Goldstone and Raji Sourani featured in Swedish Magazine 'Advokaten'|
|Wednesday, 24 February 2010 00:00|
On 3 December 2009, Justice Richard Goldstone received the first Stockholm Human Rights Award - a joint initiative by the International Bar Association, the International Legal Assistance Consortium and the Swedish Bar Association - for his work relating to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. At the ceremony, Justice Goldstone met with Raji Sourani, the Director of PCHR. Both jurists were profiled in the Swedish magazine 'Advokaten' in January 2010. PCHR provides a translation of the original Swedish-language articles below.
Raji Sourani: "There can be no Peace without Justice"
By ULRIKA BRANDBERG, Advokaten 1/2010
Women are doubly affected by the war in Gaza and The West Bank declared lawyer Raji Sourani of human rights organization PCHR, when visiting Hildary in Stockholm. The audience listened to harrowing tales from the reality of war.
Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association Anne Ramberg welcomed Raji Sourani and talked about her own visit to Gaza four years ago. "That was where I realized the lawyer’s responsibility for the rule of law and human rights. Raji Sourani is a lawyer who never failed in this responsibility. He has courage and integrity, but most of all he has never lost hope," she said.
Raji Sourani is a lawyer and a founder of Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, PCHR, a non-political organization that uses legal means to achieve peace and justice in Gaza and on the West Bank. Raji Sourani himself was imprisoned for three years for his work, and has been subject to threats and harassment. He was imprisoned in both Israel and in Palestine.
PCHR has gathered witness accounts from women in Gaza about how they were affected by Israel’s "Operation Cast Lead" at the beginning of 2009. In total, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the offensive, 118 of those were women. 82 percent of those killed were civilians. Several thousand more were wounded, and Gaza’s infrastructure was destroyed. The world’s media has reported on the war, but according to Raji Sourani, it is hard to describe the worst of the situation. As he explained to the women lawyers in the audience:
"You can show the shelling of schools and houses on TV, but the real suffering can’t be seen, nor can it be described in figures. This suffering is present in everyday life, as 1,5 million people fight for their survival - to overcome their losses and to regain some sort of human dignity."
Sourani also pointed out how the continuing siege prevents reconstruction and recovery even after the attacks. "The scars are still there, in the shape of ruined houses, and in the wounded who can’t get medical care or psychological support. The Gaza strip is sinking ever deeper into its humanitarian crisis."
The participants at the Hildary lunch also heard two disturbing stories from the report "Through Women’s Eyes." Both cases show, as do the others in the report, according to Raji Sourani, that Israel has violated international law by, among other things, attacking civilians. However, very few people have yet been tried for these crimes. Those responsible are still at large, and many of them hold high positions in society, explained Raji Sourani.
"The women of Gaza face discrimination in peacetime and are affected particularly severely by the war and the siege of Gaza, said Sourani. We felt that there was very little reported about the situation for women, so we wanted to highlight this and show how women are affected."
He also explained that PCHR has a special unit that works with women’s situations and supports them through legal counseling. Sourani smiles a little sadly when he is asked how women’s stories have affected him. "To me they are not stories – these are accounts of our reality. You live it and you carry it with you around the clock," he says.
According to Raji Sourani, descriptions in the report clearly show how Israel has violated and continues to violate international humanitarian law. PCHR uses judicial methods in e.g. Israeli courts, so that justice can be administered for these crimes.
"The situation in Israel and Palestine is one of the most complicated in the world, but the solution is one of the simplest, which is to impose the rule of international law, as it provides clear rules and mechanisms for dealing with crime," declared Raji Sourani, who says he has never given up his faith in justice.
"There can be no peace without justice," said Sourani.
Raji Sourani visited Stockholm to participate in the presentation of the newly instigated Stockholm Human Rights Award, which was awarded to the South African judge Richard Goldstone. Sourani stressed that he and his organization stands behind Goldstone’s conclusions in the report released in September.
"The report doesn’t shed any new light - all of this was already known. The unique points here are the clear recommendations and the fact that Goldstone places responsibility on the world community."
Raji Sourani thanked all of the lawyers and legal professionals around the world for their contributions in the struggle for the rule of law and human rights.
"The struggle for justice and human rights may seem hopeless, but your support provides the motivation and courage to continue," said Sourani.
Richard Goldstone Receives the first Stockholm Human Rights Award
By Tom Knutson, Advokaten 1/2010
The Stockholm Human Rights Award has been awarded for the first time. Recipient was the South African judge Richard Goldstone. The prize is a joint initiative by the Swedish Bar, the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) and the International Bar Association (IBA).
The UN has Blamed Both Sides
The Israeli military operation Cast Lead was a collective punishment of the people in Gaza for lending its support to Hamas. Such is Richard Goldstone’s view, although he underlines Israel’s right to defend itself. The real question is what constitutes a disproportional reaction.
In conjunction with the award ceremony on December 3, Richard Goldstone gave a speech entitled ‘Accountability for war crimes’ to some 90 especially invited guests, including prominent Swedish and international lawyers, as well as journalists.
Goldstone focused considerably on the development of universal jurisdiction and its links to war crimes. Universal jurisdiction means that a national court can investigate and proceed against certain serious international crimes, even if there is no actual link to that particular country or its citizens.
Goldstone highlighted the fact that before the Nuremberg trials, war criminals were practically exempt from punishment. “In most cases, war criminals were seen as heroes in their home countries. They could travel the world safely since there were no courts with the jurisdiction to try them”, Goldstone stated, pointing to the fact that universal jurisdiction did exist, but that it was only applicable to pirates, and this was the case for hundreds of years.
Goldstone described how universal jurisdiction was reawakened and applied to numerous new areas in the aftermath of WW II. He described how the evolution and establishment of a series of conventions, including the Geneva Convention, developed the concept of universal jurisdiction. And furthermore how several international courts, such as the ICC, were established to proceed against individuals responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The universal jurisdiction became an important tool in dealing with war crimes, Goldstone concluded, adding that the institutions have become a force in their own right.
“I don’t believe that the politicians who made it possible for these courts to function realized how universal jurisdiction would become such a success”, Goldstone stated, adding that the ICC has become an institution feared in many capitals. The court’s jurisdiction forces even the most powerful states to take it into consideration.
Decidedly pleased, he drew attention to the fact that justice has caught up with several previous dictators and oppressors, among them Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, due to the development of the area.
‘These oppressors and dictators are always anxious to get access to medical treatment and therefore travel to places where they can get it. But now they have to think twice before travelling somewhere. That especially goes for Western European countries’, Goldstone asserted with apparent satisfaction.
Unfortunately, several large countries are still not thrilled by the thought of being supervised by international courts and organisations.
That Richard Goldstone would accept the responsibility to head the UN Fact Finding Mission in the Gaza Conflict, which presented the so-called ‘Goldstone Report’, was far from obvious. Initially he was sceptical and didn’t want to become involved since he regarded the UN resolution mandating the mission as being partial. At the outset, the objective was a fact-finding mission on war crimes committed by the Israeli occupation power. It did not include war crimes committed against Israel by Palestinian forces operating out of Gaza.
After declining involvement in the commission, Goldstone was consulted on how an impartial mandate could be drafted. He described how it should include all the relevant facts and events pertaining to the military operation Cast Lead. And when the actual mandate was formulated accordingly, he considered himself unable to back out.
"I assumed, probably naïvely and overly optimistically, that with an impartial mandate we would be able to cooperate with all parties and especially with the Israeli government. It would be the first time it would have the possibility to become involved and cooperate with an impartial mandate from the UN Human Rights Council. "
It was with great sadness and frustration that Richard Goldstone soon was forced to realize that Israel was not interested in cooperating.
"We were also not allowed to travel to South Israel and meet with the victims of the rocket attacks," he added.
With the Palestinians the proceedings proved a lot less difficult and the commission met with leaders of the Palestinian Authority and with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
When the report, which pointed to disproportional violence against civilians by both sides, was issued, it was adopted by a majority in both the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
"The criticism we brought forward against both sides was approved by both bodies. That is unprecedented. It is regrettable that this has not been given sufficient attention, considering the publicity and criticism the report has generated. But nobody has paid sufficient attention to the fact that for the first time, certainly in the UN Human Rights Council, violations committed by militant Palestinian forces have been condemned by a report, which has been approved by the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” Goldstone stated with a certain force. He added: "I can understand that Israel does not want to make a lot of noise about it, since they dislike the report. But it disappoints me that neither the US nor any EU country has said anything. But it is not too late yet.”
Goldstone described in a moving way his impressions from Gaza. How public buildings had been blown to pieces. How 25,000 private homes had been demolished and even more had been partly destroyed. How factories had been bombed and agricultural fields had been laid to waste.
“When you hear the casualty figures, these are only numbers and do not express the personal stories. 1,400 persons died in Gaza during the military operation. There are 1,400 personal accounts. 1,400 families have lost their loved ones.”
He met with the victims. They were personal meetings with parents who had lost their children. Little girls, only two, three, four years old, who had been killed during the military operation in December and January of 2008-09.
In the report it is described how both sides committed serious war crimes. Richard Goldstone emphasized that the purpose of the mission was to collect facts.
“Our ambition was not to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt. The report is a road map, which indicates what needs to be investigated and how to bring in testimony. That is why our main recommendation was that the authorities of Israel and Gaza must conduct their own investigations, based on our findings. What could be more reasonable than having Israel and the Palestine authorities running their own investigations? If they need international assistance, they can have it, from IBA, or from other regional organisations. There is no lack of qualified lawyers in the region.”
Goldstone is sceptical of the prospects of the report being handed over to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council. He is hopeful, however, that the responsible authorities in Israel and the Palestinian territories will investigate and prosecute the crimes.
In a Q&A session with the audience, Goldstone described the Israeli operation as a collective punishment of the people in Gaza for allegedly supporting Hamas. At the same time he underscored that having states dealing with non-state actors and terror organisations is a matter of great difficulty.
Goldstone emphasized that Israel has a right to defend itself. The main question is what constitutes a disproportionate reaction and if civilians or civilian targets were attacked without military necessity. According to the report from the UN fact-finding mission, both parties committed war crimes and used disproportionate violence against civilians.
Award Ceremony at the Swedish Bar
The award ceremony for the newly created “Stockholm Human Rights Award” took place at the Swedish Bar on 3 December
Christian Åhlund, Executive Director of ILAC, said that the decision to give the award to Richard Goldstone was taken before the Goldstone Report was published.
“Richard Goldstone is awarded the prize for his unusual combination of the highest international legal expertise and a deep concern for the individual,” Åhlund stated.
He also expressed the view that given the strong reactions against the report, Goldstone's great personal integrity and courage in the defence of fundamental legal principles can now be added to the reasons for giving him the award.
Anne Ramberg, the Secretary General of the Swedish Bar, described Richard Goldstone as a dedicated, hard-working and brave man, who has fought for the support and defence of human rights in various places in the world. Ramberg added that in her view Goldstone had been exposed to unfair criticism as a consequence of his unwavering support for human rights.
“Lawyers have a particular responsibility in the defence of the rule of law and human rights. Richard Goldstone is an excellent representative of those who assume this responsibility,” Anne Ramberg stated.
“It is a great honour to be the first recipient of the Stockholm Human Rights Award. And particularly to receive the award in the presence of such a qualified and competent audience. I see many familiar and friendly faces here today,” said Richard Goldstone, and added that he has had strong links to Sweden for many years, both on a personal and a professional level.
Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association, IBA, expressed the view that there has been a shift of paradigms in the development of the international humanitarian law during the last decades. One of the persons who has had a decisive influence on this development is Richard Goldstone.