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The Goldstone Report at the UN General Assembly: States Must Ensure Victim’s Rights and Not Compromise the Rule of Law

Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel * Addameer  * Al Dameer Association for Human Rights * Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Man * Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights * Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights * Defence for Children International-Palestine Section * Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy * Jerusalem Legal Aid Center * Palestinian Centre for Human Rights * Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies * Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling

Today, 4 November 2009, the General Assembly will meet to discuss the Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission  on the Gaza Conflict (the Goldstone Report). A draft Resolution has been presented to the General Assembly for debate, and it is evident that those who claim to speak on behalf of human rights and international law are failing in their mandate. The draft Resolution is a politically motivated compromise, intended to obtain support for a Resolution without substance, one which fails to protect victims’ rights or to pursue accountability. While the draft addresses certain demands, it does not explicitly include operational steps for the implementation of the Recommendations of the Goldstone Report, and absolutely fails to bring remedy and redress to victims.

There can be no compromise on the fundamental principles of human rights and international law. If international law is to prove capable of protecting civilian populations and of averting future atrocities, then it must be enforced. Each individual’s basic human right to equal protection of the law and to an effective judicial remedy must be ensured. Those accused of committing international crimes must be investigated, tried, and prosecuted.

In supporting this draft the PLO are following the traditional policy of attempting to secure a Resolution by consensus. Too often have the rights of Palestinians been negotiated away in order to provide the appearance of political progress, and too often has progress manifested itself as mere maintenance of the status quo, which for decades has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights.

Impunity must not be allowed to prevail. It is unacceptable that international law be subject to the whim of powerful States in order to deny populations throughout the world their fundamental human rights. As Palestinians and representatives of the victims we demand justice, and the possibility of a peaceful future.

The General Assembly must request that the Security Council not only consider the Goldstone Report, but also implement its recommendations. Domestic investigations are essential; however, if these are not conducted credibly and in accordance with international standards – as past experience would suggest is the likelihood – then the consequences must be clear. Should attempts be made to shield alleged war criminals from justice, then the Security Council must take appropriate action, and the situation must be referred to the International Criminal Court.

It is also essential that, as recommended in the Goldstone Report, the General Assembly act now to ensure reparations for the victims of Operation Cast Lead. It is unacceptable that the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip continues to this day and that reconstruction and recovery have been denied. The General Assembly must establish an escrow fund to handle reparations owed to the victims by Israel, and act to end this illegal blockade. The continued suffering of innocent civilians cannot be condoned by the United Nations.

At the Human Rights Council in September, the political vacillation of the PLO, the anti-accountability agenda of some of the most powerful UN member states, and a callous disregard for the victims of Operation Cast Lead saw the first attempt to bury the Goldstone Report. As the representatives of the Palestinians at the UN the PLO must ensure a second attempt is not successful, and must re-focus its efforts towards ensuring that a Resolution fully endorsing the Goldstone Report and its detailed recommendations be adopted by a majority of the General Assembly; a ‘consensus’ Resolution will effectively nullify the decision of the Human Rights Council’s Special Session, repudiate the rule of international law, and implicitly endorse further impunity for those who target civilians.

Palestinians do not want to be part of a consensus that buries the Goldstone Report, and denies victims’ legitimate rights. Palestinians should neither be forced to negotiate on the Recommendations of the Goldstone Report, nor to compromise their fundamental rights under international law. It is essential – at the risk of condoning impunity and the commission of future international crimes – that the General Assembly:

a)       fully endorse the Report of the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict;

b)      urge the Security Council to endorse the Report, and to expeditiously pursue all accountability mechanisms presented therein; particularly a referral to the International Criminal Court under Chapter VII in the absence of good faith investigations by the parties to the conflict;

c)       demand that credible internal domestic investigations and prosecutions be carried out by the parties to the conflict in accordance with international standards of impartiality, independence, promptness and effectiveness;

d)      remain fully appraised of the matter until appropriate action is taken at the domestic or international level in order to ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators;

e)       establish an escrow fund for the purpose of compensating the victims of violations of international law committed during Operation Cast Lead;

f)        request Switzerland to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to ensure its respect;

g)       promote an urgent discussion on the use of munitions such as white phosphorous (as mentioned in the Report), and a moratorium on their use by Israel.