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General Assembly Must Vote To Fight Impunity and Uphold the Rule of Law

Ref: 113/2009  On 4 November 2009, a plenary meeting of the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (the Goldstone Report). This discussion offers an unparalleled opportunity for the General Assembly, and the United Nations as a whole, to address the situation arising from Israel’s longstanding belligerent  occupation through the lens of human rights and international law. It is essential that the Member States of the United Nations and the Palestinian leadership remain true to the principles of human rights and international law. The political pressure exerted by Israel, the United States, and certain European States must be countered and condemned. The determination to counter this pressure and to act in the interests of justice and accountability evidenced at the 12th Special Session of the Human Rights Council must be continued and reinforced. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) emphasize that the issue at hand is one of human rights and the rule of international law. The discussion is not restricted to Israel-Palestine but has consequences which will be felt throughout the World. The United Nations must affirm the universality of human rights and international law. In order to be relevant these principles must be enforced equally and without discrimination. Justice Goldstone found that numerous war crimes and other violations of international law were committed in the context of the offensive on the Gaza Strip. Evidence also indicates that crimes against humanity may have been committed; the crime against humanity of persecution, manifested inter alia by Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip continues to this day. In total over 1,400 Palestinians were killed, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians (82%). A further 5,300 Palestinians were injured, and civilian property and public infrastructure in the Gaza Strip was extensively and deliberately destroyed. However, this offensive was not an isolated incident. Although the scale and brutality of Operation Cast Lead was unprecedented, the underlying crimes – such as willful killing, indiscriminate attacks, and the extensive destruction of property – have been a well documented and consistent feature of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Human rights have been willfully and systematically denied. PCHR firmly believes that impunity has allowed this pattern of illegality to persist and escalate. The recommendations of the Goldstone Report present the international community with the opportunity to redress this situation. The Human Rights Council has already overwhelmingly endorsed the Goldstone Report’s findings and recommendations, it is essential that the General Assembly and the Security Council now do the same and take concrete action to fight impunity and uphold victims’ legitimate rights.  
Recommendations to the General Assembly
 The General Assembly must:i)     endorse Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/S12/1 and call for the full endorsement of the Goldstone Report and its recommendations, noting that continued impunity constitutes a threat to international peace and security; ii)   refer the Report to the Security Council with a request for specific measures to be taken in the pursuit of accountability, all parties must conduct credible domestic investigations, if they fail to do so within a period of six months, the situation must be referred to the International Criminal Court, the General Assembly must continue to monitor the situation; iii) establish an escrow fund to handle reparations owed to Palestinians by the State of Israel, in accordance with the law of  ‘State Responsibility for Internationally Wrongful Acts’;  iv) request that Switzerland immediately convene a meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to discuss ensuring respect for the Conventions in Israel-Palestine; and v)   call for a discussion on the legality of the use of white phosphorous, flechettes and DIME munitions. PCHR stress that international law, human rights and the rule of law are the fundamental components of a just and sustainable peace; continued impunity constitutes a threat to international peace and security. In keeping with Justice Goldstone’s recommendations the General Assembly should request the Secretary-General to develop a policy to integrate human rights in peace initiatives in which the United Nations is involved, especially the Quartet. If the Security Council fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the General Assembly must be ready to act to uphold human rights and the rule of international law.  PCHR – in conjunction with Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and civil society organizations – has been actively engaged in lobbying and advocating on these issues. Representations have been made to, amongst others, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, and each Member State of the United Nations. PCHR sought to attend the General Assembly meeting in New York. However, Director Raji Sourani is currently prohibited from entering the United States for ‘security reasons’, while the remainder of PCHR’s staff were unable to travel as a result of the continued imposition of the illegal Israeli blockade. Victims’ legitimate right to effective judicial remedy must be upheld. Palestinians and Israelis must be granted the equal protection of the law. Politics can not be allowed to take precedence over individuals’ legitimate rights.