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Raji
Sourani, Director, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights


On
the night of Thursday, 1 October, I learned of the Palestinian leadership’s
decision to defer the Human Rights Council Resolution on the Report of the UN
Fact Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report). This decision was the result of
“intense diplomacy” on the part of the United States, the complicity of
European States, and concerted pressure by the government of Israel. I was
shocked and outraged.

This
decision is a clear example of the triumph of politics over human rights.
Acting in their own self-interest, governments have chosen to deny individuals’
legitimate rights. The only victors are those who stand accused of violating
international law: they have been granted impunity, while their victims
continue to suffer.

Justice
Goldstone and his team conducted their work with commendable professionalism,
independence and integrity. The report speaks for itself, it addressed
violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, and
its findings are firmly grounded in independent investigations and legal
analysis. The findings of the report confirm previous investigations conducted
by the UN, the Arab League, and independent Palestinian, Israeli and
international organisations. Justice Goldstone found that numerous violations
of international law were committed in the Gaza Strip, including war crimes and
grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. There was sufficient evidence to
indicate that crimes against humanity may have been committed and are, indeed,
ongoing.

One
of the most significant aspects of the report was its emphasis on
accountability. As Justice Goldstone stated, “The ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope
for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters
violence.” It is this emphasis that has provoked the response of certain
members of the international community, and has spurred Israel to unfairly
condemn the report.

However, Justice Goldstone’s
recommendations are appropriate and reflective of the reality of the conflict;
they have been fully endorsed by the majority of both Palestinian and Israeli
human rights organisations. For many years now, we have been told to ignore the
past, and to forget countless human rights and international law violations, in
the pursuit of peace. This tactic has been tried, and it has failed.

There can be no peace without justice. The
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has consistently called for adherence to
international law, and the rule of law. We firmly believe that these factors
are the only possible foundations for a just and sustainable peace.

In the pursuit of justice and the rule of
law accountability is essential. If the law is to be respected – if it is to
prove capable of protecting civilians – then it must be upheld. History has
repeatedly shown us that those who are granted impunity will continue to
violate international law. The consequences were
graphically
illustrated by the massive levels of death, injury, and suffering inflicted on
the civilians of the Gaza Strip during the December-January offensive.

Impunity,
and the effective silence of the international community, has been a
longstanding feature of the occupation. Neither the State of Israel nor
individuals suspected of committing war crimes have ever been tried and
prosecuted in accordance with the norms of international law. Over 1,400
Palestinians were killed and over 5,300 injured during the December-January
offensive, yet so far there has only been one prosecution – for the theft of a
credit card. Within the Israeli judicial system, justice for Palestinians is
simply unattainable. The system is designed to shield alleged war criminals
from justice; since the outbreak of the second intifada Israel does not
even open investigations into the killing of Palestinian civilians by
Israeli forces. Despite numerous Security Council Resolutions, Palestinians
rights, including the fundamental right to self-determination, continue to be
denied.

The
deferral of the report, and the motivations of certain members of the
international community, do not just affect those of us in Palestine and Israel
who are denied the equal protection of the law. Human rights and international
law are universal: they apply regardless of nationality, age, gender, religion,
or political affiliation. Individuals throughout the world are entitled to the
protection of the law, and to a life of human dignity and opportunity. When the
law, and the fundamental principles of human rights, are cast aside for the
sake of politics, respect for the rule of law itself is undermined. The
consequences are potentially disastrous, and have been evidenced by the reality
of Israel’s longstanding occupation of Palestinian land, and by countless
violations of human rights committed across the globe.

Palestinians
and Israeli’s legitimate right to justice and the equal protection of the law
cannot continue to be denied; the consequences are increased violations of
international law, and further suffering. Peace will remain an elusive dream.

The
mistakes of the past must not be repeated. Human rights must be respected. The
international community cannot continue to condone violations of international
law: accountability is essential. The United Kingdom and the other members of
the international community must move to publicly endorse the findings and the
recommendations of the Goldstone Report. Leadership on the part of the EU is essential;
it must move to ensure respect for human rights, particularly as the EU
provides the majority of the financial assistance made necessary as a result of
Israel’s continuing illegal actions. In the face of inaction on the part of the
international community as a whole, individual States must fulfil their legal
obligations and pursue accountability by all available means, including through
the exercise of universal jurisdiction.