Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Conor Gearty, "Israel, Gaza and international law," openDemocracy, January 21, 2009.

The Israeli attack on the Gaza strip in has exposed the relative impotence of international law in the face of determined sovereign action. On 8 January 2009, the United Nations Security Council called for "an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." It also urgently insisted on the "unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment."

  This is not solely or even mainly about whether the operation was justified; the concern is rather with how it was conducted.

On 9 January the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, told a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) that "international human-rights law must apply in all circumstances and at all times." The high commissioner strongly urged the parties to the conflict "to fulfil their obligations under international humanitarian law to collect, care for and evacuate the wounded and to protect and respect health workers, hospitals, and medical units and ambulances." Pillay also called on each side "to allow the deployment of independent human-rights monitors in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory to document any violations of international-human rights and humanitarian law."

In reminding the HRC that "violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked", she suggested that the council "should consider authorising a mission to assess violations committed by both sides in the conflict in order to establish the relevant facts and ensure accountability." In its resolution on 12 January, the council said that it "strongly condemns the ongoing military operation carried out ... in the occupied Gaza Strip, which [has] resulted in massive violations of human rights of Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure"; it decided to send "an urgent independent international fact-finding mission" to investigate what is going on.

  The argument - based on the right of national self-defence in Article 51 of the UN charter, together with the alleged use by Hamas of civilian areas from which to launch rockets on Israel - might not be able to survive a few hours in a court of law; but all it needs to withstand is at most five minutes' interrogation in the media, and it is more than fit for this purpose.

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