A very high-octane group of 16 prosecutors and judges associated with various recent international atrocity investigations and prosecutions has now called for for a full international investigation into alleged abuses of international law during the recent Gaza conflict.
The letter’s signatories include Antonio Cassese, who is undoubtedly the dean of international criminal jurisprudence and was also the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, Richard Goldstone, first chief prosecutor of ICTY, Dumisa Ntsebeza, a member of South Africa’s TRC, and Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Oh, and Archbishop Tutu, chair of South Africa’s TRC.
In a letter the group sent to UN Sec-Gen Ban Ki-moon and the members of the Security Council, the group wrote,
- We urge world leaders to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count. We call on them to support the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict. The commission should have the greatest possible expertise and authority and: a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict; it should not be limited only to attacks on UN facilities; act in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations; if it finds sufficient evidence, it should provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations of the law by the relevant authorities.
The events in Gaza have shocked us to the core. Relief and reconstruction are desperately needed but, for the real wounds to heal, we must also establish the truth about crimes perpetuated against civilians on both sides.
Actually, as longtime readers of JWN are probably aware I am fairly skeptical about the value of international criminal prosecutions and international criminal investigations in general. I believe what the beleaguered people of Gaza and the also harmed (but far less armed) people of southern Israel need above everything else is a speedy and sustainable end to the conflict between their two peoples.
Absent such a final peace settlement, the institutionalized violence of Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will continue; resistance to that occupation will obviously continue, in ways that may include violence (and properly regulated violence is a quite legal way to end military occupation); and Israeli military actions of a frequently lethal and very harmful nature can also be expected to continue.
The most urgent goal is to end all that violence, the commission of which continues to this day. Once the direct violence of occupation and all the violence that flows from that situation, has ended: That will be, I think, the best time to start examining the “truth” about the past.
Some of my Black friends in South Africa used to say: “We already knew so many things about the violence that was been committed against us by the White colonial regimes. We didn’t need the TRC to ‘gain’ that knowledge. What we needed it for was to gain acknowledgment from our former tormenters about their past abuses.” The same may well be true of the Palestinians. But what they need, most urgently of all, is an end to the violence that continues to plague their every waking minute.
Still, these international-lawyer types like to have a job, and they like to be “relevant.”
Perhaps, too, in a context in which “international” courts are now pursuing a criminal indictment against one Arab president (Sudan’s Pres. Bashir) and a criminal investigation that might well get close to another (Syria’s Pres. Asad), while no-one is even considering any authoritative form of criminal investigation into the abuses the Bush administration committed in Iraq, in Guantanamo, and elsewhere, these jurists realize that the whole machinery of “international criminal justice” now looks very lopsided… a little bit too much like judicial colonialism?
Anyway, in Gaza as in Darfur, I still strongly believe that what’s needed above all is full support for effective peacemaking, rather than criminal prosecutions. Investigations and possible prosecutions can come later. But first, these conflicts need to be resolved.
(On Gaza, I think Amnesty’s recent call for an international embargo on the shipment of all arms into the theater of the recent war– that is, to Israel as well as to Hamas– makes a lot more sense than this call for an international investigation.)