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Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere

Raji Sourani,


Palestinian Centre for Human Rights


On Thursday night, 1 October 2009, I
learned of the Palestinian leadership’s decision to defer the resolution
endorsing the findings and recommendations of the UN Fact Finding Mission lead
by Justice Goldstone. This decision was apparently reached following “intense
diplomacy” on the part of the United States, and consequent to significant
pressure exerted by Israel. I was shocked and outraged.


This decision represents the triumph
of politics over humanity. Political self-interest has been used to deny
individual’s legitimate human rights. The suffering of the people has been
ignored, and those responsible for violating international law – for directly
targeting civilians – have been granted impunity.


Justice Goldstone accepted his
position only “because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties:
Israel, Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip; and other armed Palestinian groups.”
The Fact Finding Mission conducted their work in a professional and impartial
manner; the final report is testament to their objectivity and professional
integrity. It confirms the results of previous investigations conducted by the
UN, the Arab League, and independent Palestinian, Israeli and international
organizations. It concludes that numerous violations of international law were
perpetrated in the Gaza Strip, including war crimes and grave breaches of the
Geneva Conventions; there is sufficient evidence to indicate that crimes
against humanity may have been committed and are, indeed, ongoing.


These crimes and the consequent
international reaction headed by the United States are symptomatic of the
Palestinian reality. For decades now we have been denied our fundamental human
rights, and have been the victims of serious constant violations of
international law. As a people, and despite numerous UN Security Council
Resolutions, our right to self-determination has been roundly denied.

Not once, in the long history of the occupation, has the State of Israel or any
individual Israeli suspected of violating international law, been investigated
and prosecuted in accordance with the norms of international law. Within the
Israeli judicial system, justice for Palestinians is simply unattainable. The
system is designed to shield alleged war criminals from justice; since the
outbreak of the second intifada Israel does not even open investigations
into the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces. Over 1,400
Palestinians were killed and over 5,300 injured during the offensive on the
Gaza Strip, the vast majority of whom (over 80%) were civilians. To date Israel
has conducted one prosecution related to an Israeli soldier’s theft and
subsequent misuse of a Gaza civilians credit card.


The Palestinian Centre for Human
Rights has consistently called for adherence to international law, the rule of
law, and justice. We firmly believe that these are the only possible
foundations for a just and peaceful future. This motivation is not restricted
to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it applies worldwide: it is a central tenet
of human rights law that all persons are entitled to the equal
protection of the law and that all victims have the right to an
effective judicial remedy. Human rights are universal: they apply regardless of
nationality, religion, gender, or political affiliation.

In Cairo, President Obama stood before the world and declared that he had an
unyielding belief that all people yearn for the rule of law and the equal
administration of justice. These words are true and noble, yet they have been
actively undermined and negated by the actions of his administration.


For many years, we have been told
that the past must be forgotten for the future, that human rights and justice
must be cast aside in the pursuit of peace. This approach has been tried and it
has unequivocally failed; since the Oslo peace process began in 1993/94 the
occupation has been consolidated, and violations of international law have
escalated. Today in the Gaza Strip we are forced to speak of the basics,
demanding our right to food, medicine, and movement; we are fighting to stave
off an Israeli imposed humanitarian disaster, and to protect our fundamental
human dignity.


There can be no peace without
justice. As noted by Justice Goldstone “The ongoing
lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and
reinforcing an environment that fosters violence”
. The only possibility
for a sustainable peace is one built on human rights and respect for
international law. For the rule of law to be relevant – for it to provide the
necessary protection to civilians – it must be enforced. History has shown us,
time and time again, that as long as individuals and States are granted
impunity, they will continue to violate the law. The consequences of this
impunity were graphically illustrated by the massive levels of death, injury,
and suffering inflicted on the civilians of the Gaza Strip during the
December-January offensive. Those suspected of violating international law must
be tried and prosecuted; victims’ rights to an effective judicial remedy must
be upheld.


As long as the United States works
to deny Palestinians and Israeli’s legitimate right to justice and the equal
protection of the law, it cannot claim to be acting in our interests, or the
interests of humanity. I urge President Obama to live up to his words, to
pursue justice and the universal application of human rights: to act in the
interests of equality and human dignity, and not to allow politics triumph over
individuals’ fundamental human rights. In the face of inaction on the part of
the international community as a whole, individual States must fulfill their
legal obligations and pursue accountability by all available means, including
through the exercise of universal jurisdiction.


The mistakes of the past must not be
repeated. Peace can only be built on justice.