/ 29 September 2009

Goldstone: War crimes impunity impedes Mid-East peace

A lack of accountability for war crimes committed in the Middle East has reached ”crisis point”, undermining any hope for peace in the region, a United Nations human rights investigator charged on Tuesday.

Richard Goldstone, a former UN war crimes prosecutor who led a UN inquiry into the Gaza conflict, called on Israeli and Hamas authorities to conduct open and credible investigations into atrocities during their December-January war in the strip.

”A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long,” Goldstone told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

”The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible war 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.”

Israel says its December-January offensive against the Gaza strip was intended to stop militants firing rockets at Israel. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says 773 of 1 387 Palestinians killed were civilians. Israel says 709 combatants and 295 civilians were killed. Thirteen Israelis, 10 soldiers and three civilians, died.

Goldstone urged the 47-member state forum to adopt his panel’s recent report, which found that the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during the conflict. Adoption of the report would mean it is referred to the UN Security Council for further action.

Goldstone, a South African, acknowledged that the four-member panel had been hit with a ”barrage of criticism” on its findings, but said the investigation had not been politically motivated.

It was also important not to ascribe collective guilt to a people. ”People of the region should not be demonised,” he said.

Israeli and Palestinian delegations are due to address the Geneva forum, which is holding an all-day debate on the report before considering resolutions on the issue later this week. — Reuters