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Urgent: Letter to High Commissioner for Human Rights

Ms. Pillay,


would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Palestinian Centre for
Human Rights, to welcome you to the Gaza Strip, on this your first official visit
to occupied Palestine.


members of the international human rights community, and representatives of
victims, we look upon the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a figurehead, a
protector, and a role-model. In this sense, I hope that your visit and your
actions will offer some hope to the civilian victims of this longstanding
occupation. I hope that you will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the besieged
civilians of the Gaza Strip, with those living behind the Annexation wall in
the West Bank, and with those subject to ethnic cleansing in occupied East Jerusalem. The Palestinian people need to know that
we are not forgotten, that our human rights remain valid and worthy of
protection, and that the United Nations will work ceaselessly to protect our rights
and ensure that those responsible for their violation are held to account.

In this conflict it is civilians who bear the brunt of the Israeli occupation
and its policies. Although classified as ‘protected persons’ under
international humanitarian law, civilians have been directly targeted on a
consistent and systematic basis. It is the Palestinian civilian population who
suffer the effects of land confiscation, of settlement activity, of the Annexation
wall, and the closure of the Gaza Strip. It is civilians who are subjected to
poverty and hunger as a result of illegal policies and acts. These same
civilians are then systematically denied their right to an effective remedy
should they attempt to agitate for their rights, and for redress.


is in the Gaza Strip that this policy has become dramatically evident. For more
than three and a half years, the entire population of Gaza has been subject to an illegal closure
policy. This policy – explicitly enacted as a form of ‘economic warfare’
directed against the civilian population – has cut Gaza off from the rest of
Palestine and the outside world, leading to, inter alia, increased poverty, dependency and despair.


during Israel’s 27 December
2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza
Strip it was civilians who were placed in the eye of the storm. 83% of the over
1,400 casualties were civilians, the majority of the 5,300 injured were
civilians, and civilian property and infrastructure was extensively targeted
and destroyed. Over two years later you can still see the unhealed scars as you
travel through Gaza; in violation of Security
Council Resolution 1860, Israel
has failed to open the crossings, effectively preventing necessary recovery and



one has been held responsible for these war crimes and possible crimes against


it is precisely this lack of accountability which cuts to the core of the
reality in the occupied Palestinian territory today. Despite the extensive
documentation of systematic violations of international humanitarian law and
international human rights law, and the publicity this documentation has
received, no individual has been held criminally accountable. The international
community has not enacted any tangible consequence for these violations, and it
is precisely this pervasive impunity which allows the Occupying Power to
continue its illegal policies.


this impunity is distinctly manifested via the international community’s
reaction to the ongoing collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population: the three and a
half year closure.


is a tangible risk that the international community now risks
‘institutionalising’ the closure, thereby becoming complicit in collective
punishment. This cannot be allowed to happen. There are no partial or eased
violations of international law, as noted by the ICRC: the closure must be
lifted in its entirety. The Office of the High Commissioner must do everything
in its power to prevent the institutionalisation of the closure, and to bring
an end to the collective punishment of Gaza’s


veil of impunity is also manifest in the lack of criminal accountability for
perpetrators of international crimes, as evidenced by the now protracted
‘Goldstone process’ which has resulted in de
impunity on all sides. It is over two years since the end of the
Israeli offensive, and all sides have emphatically failed to initiate genuine
criminal investigations, and if appropriate prosecutions, in accordance with
the requirements of international law. Rather than pursue justice, the domestic
processes have been characterised by a desire to shield suspects.


ask that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights work to bring the
situation in Israel and the oPt to the attention of the General Assembly and
the Security Council, and that a final decision on the Goldstone process be
made. Victims cannot be consigned to a judicial limbo as ineffective domestic
proceedings are constantly ‘evaluated’.


light of the evident failure of the domestic processes the international
community must now assume its responsibility to investigate and prosecute those
suspected of international crimes. The Security Council, acting under Chapter
VII of the UN Charter, must refer the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian
territory to the International Criminal Court.


absence of justice has resulted in the dire situation we face today, in the
systematic violation of fundamental human rights, and the denial of human





the closed doors of the Gaza Strip, it is our shared humanity that continues to
link us to the outside world. We demand that our human rights be respected and
protected. We demand that the international community stay silent no longer,
that it exerts its influence in the name of fundamental freedoms and justice.





Raji Sourani,


Centre for Human Rights