Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in the Palestinian Territory, has called for an independent investigation into whether war crimes were committed by Israeli Occupation forces in its 22-day aggression on the Gaza Strip, given the wide gap between Israel’s actions and international humanitarian law. In a press conference held on 22 January 2009, Professor Falk said that the entire Gaza population, who were denied the option of becoming refugees since they were locked in the warzone, may have become mentally scarred for life following the assault, in which case they could all be considered casualties of war. He criticized Israel’s claims of self defense saying its use of force contradicts the principle of proportionality and has no legal foundation under international law.
Highlights of Richard Falk's press conference
Thursday, 22 Jan 2009
Now that a ceasefire is in place it's time for the international community to tackle some difficult issues. What was not addressed clearly enough was the "unbelievably inhumane character of the large scale military operation committed by Israel against a defenseless population". This approach cannot be reconciled with IHL. The gaps between Israel's actions and IHL are so wide that this calls for an investigation into war crimes.
The Israeli leadership either foresaw what was to come of the population in Gaza or they should have seen such an outcome. This situation was reason to engage the international community and the Human Rights Council in a way never seen before in the region.
This was the first time a civilian population was locked into a warzone despite the obvious risks and the dense population. Gazans have been denied the option of becoming refugees – this constitutes a particularly severe instance of Israel not upholding its obligations as an occupying power to the population.
With more than 70% of the population in Gaza under the age of 18, the impression given is that a war has been waged against children. An investigation should be conducted to determine why "unlawful targets" were chosen and why there were so many civilian casualties. "The evidence of breaking of fundamental rules of international humanitarian law is so compelling".
The mental anguish of the civilians who suffered the assault is so great that the entire population of Gaza could be seen as casualties. It's hard to imagine that the population in Gaza won't be scarred for life.
All these acts need to be confirmed by an independent investigation. A partisan Israeli investigation would not be sufficient and would not satisfy international public opinion.
On self-defense claims by Israel
- "In my view, the UN Charter, and international law does not give
Israel the legal foundation for claiming self-defense".
- The rocket attacks by Hamas are also violations of IHL and should
- The Israeli authorities made no effort to pursue diplomacy.
- Israel had also engaged in provocative violence prior to 27
December; on 4 November Israeli attacks killed 6 or 7 civilians in
southern Gaza which broke the four-month ceasefire.
- The way Israel used force contradicted proportionality.
On war crimes
- It is hoped that the HRC will follow the lead of the HC to
investigate war crimes on the part of both sides
- Systematic war crimes have not been committed in the past on this scale
- There is pressure on Obama to take a less one-sided approach to the
Middle East crisis, which so widely exists around the world
On the possibility of prosecutions
- It's possible for Israel to establish its own mechanism to bring
those responsible to justice
- The GA or SC could set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal, as it did
for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
- The ICC could be given legal competence, despite Israel's non-party
status, if the SC authorized that, although this was unlikely
On the denial of refugee status
- "There could have been temporary provision at least made for
children, disabled, sick civilians to leave, even if where they left
to was southern Israel"
- Egypt too could have been assisted by the international community
to open the Rafah crossing. Israel made no effort or attempt to allow civilians to leave the war zone.
- "To lock people into a war zone is something that evokes the worst
kind of international memories of the Warsaw Ghetto, and sieges that
occur unintentionally during a period of wartime"