/ 13 June 2007

Tutu urges Israel, Palestinians to protect rights

South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu called on Wednesday on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to ensure that violations of human rights and humanitarian law in their region were punished.

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, he also called for an international investigation of the Israeli shelling of the town of Beit Hanoun in Gaza last November in which 19 Palestinian civilians died.

The report was the outcome of a council-created mission composed of Tutu and British law professor Christine Chinkin to look into the incident.

The mission, the report said, ”calls on the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to ensure accountability for the commission of crimes, human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law”.

”All incidents must be investigated in a prompt, transparent and independent manner, alleged perpetrators be prosecuted, and those convicted be punished,” declared the report, while victims should have ”adequate avenues for redress”.

First steps in this direction, the report added, would be ”an independent, impartial and public investigation into the bombing of Beit Hanoun and reparations for the loss of life and livelihood, injury and damage to property.”

The document was based on interviews outside Gaza with survivors of the incident, which Israel itself described as a tragedy and issued an apology.

But the Israeli government refused entry visas for Tutu’s mission, created by the 47-state council last November, arguing that its mandate was biased and failed to take into account rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns.

Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, speaking to the council on Wednesday, echoed charges of bias in the mandate given to the mission, saying he refused to be a member because it made ”a fair and equitable assessment impossible”.

The report said ”lack of accountability” for those firing rockets into Israel, as well as for civilian deaths caused by Israeli military activities in Gaza ”have resulted in a culture of impunity on both sides”.


Meanhwile, President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday appealed to the Palestinian people to resolve their internal conflict and make peace among themselves, saying a just peace with Israel is not possible when Palestine cannot make peace with itself.

Speaking in the National Assembly, Mbeki said: ”… to our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we humbly counsel: peace among the Palestinians.

”As South African patriots, loyal supporters of the noble cause for the recovery of the national rights of the Palestinian people, the security of the state of Israel and a just and stable peace throughout the Middle East, we cannot accept that the deadly fratricide engulfing occupied Palestine, especially Gaza, is either inevitable or desirable.

”At this hour of great suffering to the people of Palestine, which in essence is no different from the dismal period in our country when enemies of our people, with their collaborators among us, instigated and sustained what was described as black-on-black violence, we would like to convey to our brothers and sisters in the Fatah and Hamas the same message that [the late African National Congress president] Oliver Tambo conveyed to the-then struggling people of South Africa.

”Your shared experience of collective sacrifice in the struggle for a common goal must knit you together as one solid block of liberation.

”Your comradeship is a guarantee and a precondition for your victory in the struggle for the emergence of an independent state of Palestine.” — Reuters, Sapa