Cassese, Goldstone, Ntsebeza, Robinson call for international investigation of Gaza atrocities

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.)

10 thoughts on “Cassese, Goldstone, Ntsebeza, Robinson call for international investigation of Gaza atrocities

  1. Shirin

    You are right, of course, Helena, about what is really needed. On the other hand I see significant value in showing the Israelis that things are changing and they are no longer able to get away with their crimes. It might make them think twice before doing it again, and who knows, it might even help to move them closer to the realization that if they want to survive and be a respectable member of the world community they will have to start behaving like a civilized country.

  2. Jack

    Your suggested priority might make sense if there were any realistic possibility of peace and an end to the occupation. There is not. Never has been. The whole exercise is merely a case of Israel mollifying the US and Europe with a never-ending “peace process,” while the colonization and landgrabbing continue as planned. Sorry, Helena, wishful thinking will not change the reality. Absent some really major game changer, there is simply no way that Israel will ever agree to end the Zionist project. There is even less interest in peace now – the Netanyahu and Lieberman peace process?

  3. Rumyal

    Helena,
    If you could recommend one book about South African Appartheid and how it ended, and about the situation there in recent years, which one would that be?

  4. Richard

    There’s something wrong here – the International Court of Justice has been boycotted by the US, for fear that some of their own elite (or even minions) might be subject to the court’s rulings.
    A few cases against those very people might just restore a bit of balance.
    But the ICJ is directed by the very people who boycott it. Indicting Bashir of Sudan against not indicting Olmert of Israel, is an example.

  5. Christiane

    Helena,
    I don’t agree with you on this. Such a trial is important because it will come with an acknowledgement of what is actually done to the Palestinians. In absence of an impartial judgement, the Israelian propaganda can go on and on, with no one likely to put pressure on the Israelians to end the “slow-motion genocide” they are inflicting to the Palestinians.
    Once a trial clearly recognize what is done to the Palestinians, the world leaders will have to act.
    Gilbert Achkar said in an interview he gave in mid-january that a peace deal can only be negotiated with Israel if a large part (a majority ) of the Israelians turn against the war and the illusion that the Israelo-Palestinian conflict can be solved by force and war. The organization of such a trial could bring the Israelians to realize what they did and to oppose the aggressive policy of their government; this could succeed both indirectly through new strong pressure against Israel (embargo on weapons, economic sanctions etc.) and directly, with the Israelians finally realizing what they are doing.
    To sum it up, in this conflict the world opinion plays an important part and as such a trial publicizing what is done to the Palestinians coulc really change things IMO.
    Further, nowadays, the Palestinians are subjected to a double injustice :
    1) First they are the target of a “slow-motion genocide”
    2) Then their sufferances and tragedy are denied.
    A first step toward more justice is always to recognize that you are victimes of an injustice.
    I agree with you that a trial is not always a good thing, that one should rather look toward the future and toward reconciliation, but I think that in the case of the Palestinians, the solution is so blocked that it can’t result from a negotiation between Israel and Hamas alone. There is a need of international mediation and for this to begin, the US has to cease her inconditional support of the Israelians, the Israelians have to cease to support the aggressive position of their right wing government. This can only be achieved through a change of opinion. This is a PR relation problem and an international judgement acknowledging the unfair situation made to the Palestinians has be be issued. This is why all kind of international tribunal are a good thing.
    And once the Israelians are brought to trial, that would be a first step. Then we could also put the US and the Bushites on trial for their invasion of Iraq. That would be beautiful end to colonial justice.

  6. Christiane

    Concerning colonial justice, I’m reading that on Monday the NewYork Review of Book has posted a long report by Mark Danner concerning how the preceeding US administration allowed torture. This report is based on a leaked ICRC report published in 2007. It is damnning for the bushites, who have been allowing the CIA to torture since 2002 at the highest level. Mark Danner did a very good job. It seems that Patrick Leahy is lobbying senate in order to bring the responsible to trial. I hope that he will suceed. Obama seems to be fearful of that and has already said the US should look forward.. ahem.. yes, it’s good to act to prevent future misdeeds, but those who knowingly breached all the Humanitarian Laws, can’t get out immune. They have to be condemned for their misdeeds, to pay for it; this is a question of justice. And if the country who name itself a defensor of democracy and freedom isn’t able to punish its own criminals, then this is a free pass for any other would be dictators and torturers. Colonial justice shouldn’t get another freepass.

  7. Scott Benson

    and properly regulated violence is a quite legal way to end military occupation…please define what you mean by this

  8. Helena

    Scott Benson– of course, for international law to mean anything, militarily strong states cannot just run over areas of the earth that do not belong to them, so there has always been a strong recognition of the rights of all peoples to resist both foreign military occupation and colonialism (which can be viewed as a version of foreign military occupation.) Ways of doing this have generally used violence, including the actions of the French macquis or the Yugoslav partisans during WW2 or the massive military coalition assembled in 1990-91 to reverse Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. To be properly regulated all violent actions, whether undertaken by states or non-state actors, should seek to avoid harm to noncombatants and should be proportional to the military goals sought.
    Of course it is very possible to argue that nonviolent means of struggle are both morally superior and more effective. Such arguments have a lot of merit (especially when voiced by people who are across-the-board opponents of militarism including by their own government.) But they are NOT arguments that say anything about the issue of the legality/legitimacy of armed resistance to foreign occupation.

  9. Helena

    Scott Benson– of course, for international law to mean anything, militarily strong states cannot just run over areas of the earth that do not belong to them, so there has always been a strong recognition of the rights of all peoples to resist both foreign military occupation and colonialism (which can be viewed as a version of foreign military occupation.) Ways of doing this have generally used violence, including the actions of the French macquis or the Yugoslav partisans during WW2 or the massive military coalition assembled in 1990-91 to reverse Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. To be properly regulated all violent actions, whether undertaken by states or non-state actors, should seek to avoid harm to noncombatants and should be proportional to the strategic goals sought.
    Of course it is very possible to argue that nonviolent means of struggle are both morally superior and more effective. Such arguments have a lot of merit (especially when voiced by people who are across-the-board opponents of militarism including by their own government.) But they are NOT arguments that say anything about the issue of the legality/legitimacy of armed resistance to foreign occupation.

  10. epppie

    Peace makers need to be able to walk AND chew gum. We know that warmongers work on multiple levels. Peacemakers need to do so as well.
    We need to recognize that the political dynamics in Israel, as nursed by the United States, create impunity for violence and oppression, while building disincentive for peace. International tribunals, be they official or unofficial, can provide some counter to those dynamics. A little resistance to the momentum of violence and oppression can go a long way. Justification for violence shrinks quickly in the face of (sustained) countering ideas.
    Tutu and the rest should not simply wait on international institutions, however. They should create an informal tribunal.
    Yes, ask others to do what is right, but don’t wait on them. Do what you can yourself. Don’t just call for a tribunal. Create one.
    Finally, we need to recognize the issue of precedent. What happens between Israel and its neighbors sets precedent for the whole world. Humanity is deciding the terms of its future. If the precedent set by Israel is allowed to stand, then all future conflicts between the powerful and the weak will be settled ruthlessly and by force. Of course, that’s often been the way things were done in the past, but in the era of globalization, key precedents are being rolled out and it’s happening now, in real time. What happens in Gaza and the West Bank and Lebanon and Iran matters not just to the people living there, but to the world. We as a world simply cannot allow the precedent of Impunity for the Powerful to stand.
    What will be the Rules of the Road for the future of globalized humanity? That is being decided now.

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