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The mandate of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is   “To investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/specialsession/9/FactFindingMission.htm



PRESS RELEASE 
29 September 2009


Head of UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict urges accountability for war crimes; insists impunity undermines peace process and encourages violence.

GENEVA – Head of the UN Fact Finding Mission Justice Richard Goldstone urged the international community to put an end to impunity for violations of international law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory as he presented the report of the Mission to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Following its 3-month investigation, the four-person Mission concluded that serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel in the context of its military operations in Gaza from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The Mission also found that Palestinian armed groups had committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity.

As neither the Government of Israel nor the responsible Palestinian authorities had to date carried out any credible investigations into alleged violations, Justice Goldstone urged the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council to implement a number of measures, including referral of the Mission’s report to the UN Security Council. The Mission report recommends that the Security Council require Israel and the authorities in Gaza to report to it, within six months, on investigations and prosecutions it should carry out with regard to the violations identified by the Mission.

The Mission recommends that the Security Council set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli and Palestinian investigations and prosecutions. If the experts’ reports do not indicate within six months that good faith, independent proceedings are taking place, the Security Council should refer the situation in Gaza to the ICC Prosecutor.

The Fact Finding Mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, who is a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, also comprises Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders and a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004); Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a member of the high-level fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun (2008); and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former Officer in Ireland’s Defence Forces and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations. 

“Now is the time for action,” Justice Goldstone told the Human Rights Council, “A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long. The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence.”

The Mission was appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in April with a mandate to “To investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

The Mission found that the repeated acts of firing rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip constituted war crimes that may amount to crimes against humanity.

In the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, the Mission said it found that Israel had imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip.  During the Israeli military operation, code-named “Operation Cast Lead,” more than 1,400 people were killed, including women and more than 340 children, and houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed.

The report concluded that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The Report states that Israeli acts that deprive Palestinians in the Gaza Strip of their means of subsistence, employment, housing and water, that deny their freedom of movement and their right to leave and enter their own country, that limit their rights to access a court of law and an effective remedy, and could lead a competent court to find that the crime of persecution, a crime against humanity, has been committed.

“The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens,” Justice Goldstone told the Human Rights Council, “That in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead. This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future. Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region,” he said.

As well as calling for justice, the Members of the Mission urged the Human Rights Council to take action that would ensure the protection of victims, prevent further violence and improve the living conditions of the affected people.

For further media information: contact Doune Porter, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tel: +41 928-9595 or +41-79-477-2576. Email: dporter@ohchr.org


Data on Goldstone Report, Mission Team, Methods

Launch of Report

15 September 2009 - UN Fact Finding Mission finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the Gaza conflict; calls for end to impunity

Appointment of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict
On 3 April 2009, the President of the Human Rights Council established an international independent Fact Finding Mission with the mandate “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.” [See press release of 3 April 2009 and transcript of press briefing]

The appointment of the mission followed the adoption on 12 January 2009 of resolution S-9/1 by the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of its 9th Special Session.

Mission Members
The Mission was headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was a member of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Beit Hanoun (2008);

Ms. Hina Jilani,  Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders; member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004).

Colonel Desmond Travers , former Officer in Ireland's Defence Forces; member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.  

The Mission convened for the first time on 4 May in Geneva. During the course of that week, the four Members of the Mission held meetings with a broad cross-section of stakeholders, including UN Member States, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies and bodies. The Mission also agreed on its methodology and established its programme of work.  The Mission is required to submit its report within three months.  [See press release of 8 May 2009]

Call for Submissions
The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict is pleased to invite all interested persons and organizations to submit relevant information and documentation that will assist in the implementation of the Mission's mandate. Submissions should focus on events and conduct that occurred in the context of the armed conflict that took place between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009. The Mission considers that, for the purposes of its mandate, events since June 2008 are particularly relevant to the conflict. More details are available in the Mission’s Call for Submissions.

Field Visits
In the course of its work, the Mission Members have conducted two visits to Gaza. Despite requests for the cooperation of the Government of Israel, the Mission has been refused access to Israel and the West Bank. The Mission has entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

The first field visit by the Mission Members was conducted to the Gaza Strip from 1-5 June 2009, during which they held meetings, conducted interviews with victims and witnesses and visited the sites of incidents. [See press release, summary of press conference in Gaza City and statement by the President of the Human Rights Council]. The Members of the Mission were in Gaza again from 26 June to 1 July, during which time they continued their investigations and held the Mission’s public hearings. Mission staff maintained a presence in Gaza until early July.

Members of the Mission also traveled to Amman, Jordan, from 1 to 4 July to interview witnesses and meet with people and organizations from Israel and the West Bank.

Public Hearings
As part of its investigation process, the Mission held two sets of public hearings, in Gaza City and in Geneva, during which nearly 40 witnesses, victims and experts gave testimony. The aim of holding the hearings publicly was to give a voice to those who had direct experiences and expertise related to the mandate of the Mission.

The public hearings in Gaza included victims and experts from Gaza and took place on Sunday 28 and Monday 29 June 2009. [See press releases of 25 June and 29 June 2009.]

Those in Geneva included victims and experts from Israel and the West Bank, as well as military and legal experts, and were held on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 July, 2009. [See press release of 7 July and summary of 7 July press conference 2009]

Methodology
The Mission worked on the basis of international human rights and humanitarian law and international investigative standards developed by the United Nations.

The Mission reviewed reports produced by various organizations and institutions as well as submissions on matters of fact and law relevant to its inquiry. A notice has been issued to call for submissions (see above).  The Mission consulted with a wide range of interlocutors including victims and witnesses, Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, United Nations and other international organizations, community organizations, human rights defenders, medical and other professionals, legal and military experts, authorities and other sources of reliable information relevant to its mandate, within and outside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.  The Mission also held public hearings on particular issues of concern related to its mandate.

Information-gathering methods included the analysis of video and photographic images, including satellite imagery: Satellite image analysis in support to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

Submission of Report
The Report of the Mission was submitted to the Human Rights Council during its 12th Session in September 2009.

 
Statement by Richard Goldstone on behalf of the Members of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict before the Human Rights Council

Human Rights Council 12th Session
September 29, 2009
Geneva, Switzerland

Mr. President,
(Madame High Commissioner)
members of the Council,
ladies and gentlemen

My colleagues and I are here today to present to the Council the final report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

Since the release of the advance version of the report two weeks ago, we have witnessed many attestations of support, but also a barrage of criticism towards our findings as well as public attacks against the Members of the Mission.

We will not address these attacks as we believe that the answers to those who have criticised us are in the findings of the report.

I have, however, to strongly reject one major accusation levelled against the Mission; the one that portrays our efforts as being politically motivated.

Let me repeat before this Council what I have already stated on many occasions:

We accepted this Mission because we believe deeply in the rule of law, humanitarian law, human rights, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm.

We accepted with the conviction that pursuing justice is essential and that no state or armed group should be above the law. Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during any conflict will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice.

We accepted out of a deep concern for the hundreds of civilians who needlessly died and those who suffered injury and dislocation of their lives.

We accepted because we believe that the perpetrators of serious violations must be held to account.

We do not claim to be immune from error. After the release of the report we have received a number of comments from people who are sincerely interested in the truth.

We have considered them and where relevant redressed inaccuracies in the final version of the report which is today before you.

We regret that the response to date of the Government of Israel avoids dealing with the substance of the report.

Mr. President

As you all know, the Mission was established in April of this year with the mandate to investigate “all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza from 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009, whether before during or after”.

Ambassador Uhomoibhi and I announced the establishment of the team at a press conference in April and he brought the mandate of the Mission before this Council in June.

The mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; the Palestinian Authority; Hamas, which governs Gaza; and armed Palestinian groups.

Soon after its establishment the Mission was faced with one of its major challenges: the decision of the Government of Israel not to cooperate with it and its implicit refusal to give us access to Gaza, the West Bank and to southern Israel.

We decided not to allow this lack of cooperation to prevent the Mission from discharging its mandate.

The Mission is grateful to the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for having facilitated its entry into Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

The Mission also wishes to express its gratitude to many, without whose assistance its task would have been impossible to fulfil.

 It would be difficult to name all of them here. We attempt to do so in the acknowledgement section of the report.

We wish, however, to pay our respect to the many civil society organisations, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel and elsewhere, which – often under difficult and challenging circumstances – continue to play a crucial role in upholding the universal principles of human rights.

We would respectfully suggest that this Council should recognize and support these organizations.

The first field visit by the Mission Members was conducted in the Gaza Strip from 1-5 June 2009, during which we held meetings, conducted interviews with victims and witnesses and visited the sites of incidents.

The Members of the Mission were in Gaza again from 26 June to 1 July, during which time we continued our investigations and held the Mission’s first round of public hearings. Mission staff maintained a presence in Gaza until early July.

Members of the Mission also travelled to Amman, Jordan, from 1 to 4 July to interview witnesses and meet with people and organizations from Israel and the West Bank.

As part of its investigation process, the Mission held a second set of public hearings. In the two rounds of public hearings, 38 witnesses, victims and experts gave testimony.

The aim of holding the hearings publicly was to give a voice to those who had direct experiences and expertise that related to the mandate of the Mission.

The Mission reviewed reports produced by various organizations and institutions as well as submissions on matters of fact and law relevant to its inquiry.

The Mission consulted with a wide range of interlocutors. They included victims and witnesses, Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, United Nations and other international organizations, community organizations, human rights defenders, medical and other professionals, legal and military experts, authorities and other sources of reliable information relevant to the Mission’s mandate. These interlocutors were both within and outside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. 

The Mission conducted 188 individual interviews, reviewed over 10 000 pages of documentation and viewed some 1200 photographs, including satellite imagery and video-tapes.

The Mission was supported by an outstanding Secretariat provided by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).   We are grateful to the High Commissioner for providing this support, without which the Mission could not have carried out its mandate.

In making findings of fact, we relied primarily on our own evaluation of the people who spoke to us and from what we saw with our own eyes.

We relied on reports from others where they corroborated the views we had formed.

The exception to that approach was in respect of some facts relating to the West Bank and to Israel in light of the refusal by the Israeli Government to allow us into Israel or to visit the West Bank.

On 15 September the Mission released an advance version of its report.

Mr. President
Members of the Council

Our report is before this Council for its consideration.  Allow us, however, to focus the Council’s attention on a number of points.

Let me immediately say that the report reflects the unanimous views of all four of its members.

For practical reasons, the Mission decided for the most part to restrict its fact finding to the period from 16 June 2008 to 31 July 2009. The 16th June 2008 was the date on which a cease fire between Israel and Hamas came into effect.

The Report contains an analysis of 36 specific incidents in Gaza as well as a number on the West Bank and in Israel.

In Chapter XI of the Report, for example we detail a number of specific incidents in which Israeli forces launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal consequences. These were, with only one exception, where the facts establish that there was no military objective or advantage that could justify the attacks.

You will find details of the other 35 incidents in the Report. Some of them relate to the use by the Israel Defense Forces of human shields in violation of an earlier ruling by the Israel Supreme Court outlawing such conduct.

The Mission investigated in some detail the effects on the civilian population in Southern Israel of the sustained rocket and mortar attacks from Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. We detail the suffering of victims and the highly prejudicial effects of these acts on the towns and cities that fall within the range of the rockets and mortars.

The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza.

The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel.

The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the “Hamas infrastructure”.

If “infrastructure” were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of IHL built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets.

These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes.

The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens. That in no way justifies a policy of collective punishment of a people under effective occupation, destroying their means to live a dignified life and the trauma caused by the kind of military intervention the Israeli Government called Operation Cast Lead. This contributes to a situation where young people grow up in a culture of hatred and violence, with little hope for change in the future.

Finally, the teaching of hate and dehumanization by each side against the other contributes to the destabilization of the whole region.

Mr. President
Members of the Council

Let me come to some of the recommendations.

The Mission debated long and hard on whether this was a case, like Darfur, where the Security Council should consider referring the situation both in Israel and Gaza to the International Criminal Court.

The Mission is highly critical of the pusillanimous efforts by Israel to investigate alleged violations of international law and the complete failure by the Gaza authorities to do so in respect of the armed groups. That notwithstanding the Mission came to the conclusion that both Israel and the Gaza Authorities have the ability to conduct open and transparent investigations and launch appropriate prosecutions if they decide to do so.

We therefore recommended that the Security Council should require Israel to report to it within six months, on the investigations and prosecutions it is carrying out with regard to the violations referred to in this Report and any others that may come to its attention.

The Mission recommends further that the Security Council should set up a body of independent experts to report to it on the progress of the Israeli investigations and prosecutions. The committee of experts should similarly report on investigations and prosecutions undertaken by the relevant authorities in Gaza with regard to crimes committed by the Palestinian armed groups.

In both cases, if within the six month period there are no good faith investigations conforming to international standards, the Security Council should refer the situation or situations to the ICC Prosecutor.

The Mission was concerned at the use made by the Israeli army of certain munitions and especially white phosphorous, flechettes and certain heavy metals such as tungsten. Their use is not presently banned by international law.

The Mission has recommended that the General Assembly should promote an urgent discussion on the future legality of the use of these munitions.
As appears from the Report the manner in which those munitions were used in Gaza caused unacceptable and unnecessary human suffering as well as environmental damage – not only in Gaza but probably also in southern Israel. The situations arising from the latter should be monitored by the United Nations.

Since the issue of the advance copy of the Report it has been rejected in vehement terms by the Government of Israel. The call for transparent investigations has been rejected. The Government of Israel wishes to restrict its investigations to secret inquiries by the Military investigating itself. That would clearly not satisfy the legitimate expectations of the many victims of the Israeli military operations.

A word about accountability. It has been my experience in many regions of the world, including my own country, South Africa, that peace and reconciliation depend, to a great extent, upon public acknowledgement of what victims suffer. That applies no less in the Middle East. It is a pre-requisite to the beginning of the healing and meaningful peace process.

The truth and accountability are also essential to prevent ascribing collective guilt to a people. Many people in Gaza deplore the firing of thousands of rockets at civilians in Southern Israel and the terror that it has caused to innocent children, women and men. And many in Israel, Jews and Palestinians, deplore the actions by the Israel Defense Force that caused unjustifiable civilian deaths and injuries on a very large scale. They do not approve of the damage to the food and commercial infrastructure of Gaza that will take many years to repair.

Support for many of the recommendations contained in the Report has come from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

People of the region should not be demonized. Rather their common humanity should be emphasized.

It is for this reason that the Mission came to the conclusion that it is accountability above all that is called for in the aftermath of the regrettable violence that has caused so much misery for so many.

The Mission calls upon the HRC to accept the Report and adopt its recommendations.

Mr. President

Now is the time for action.

A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long.

The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence.

In conclusion, may I say that the Mission hopes that the substance of this report will be used to strengthen initiatives for peace in the region. The mission is convinced that the international community must confront the realities highlighted in this report and that by doing so find a meaningful basis for the pursuit of peace and security for all the people of the region. Only in that way will the human dignity and security of these people be realised.

By appointing this Fact Finding Mission, the Human Rights Council raised expectations for action and for justice: we call on the Council and on the international community as a whole to take up our recommendations so those expectations will not have been raised in vain.

Thank you.

Geneva, 29 September 2009