UN Rights Chief: Israel Defying International Law in Gaza, Must Be Held Accountable

Right Commissioner Navi Pillay says Hamas also violating humanitarian law by firing rockets indiscriminately, takes U.S. to task for opposing resolutions on Israel.

Haaretz
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South African Navanethem 'Navi' Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in February 2011.
South African Navanethem 'Navi' Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in February 2011.Credit: AP
Haaretz

The United Nations' senior human rights official said on Thursday she believed Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also said that Hamas militants in Gaza have also violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, sometimes from densely-populated areas.

Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and UN premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions, Pillay said, a week after her Human Rights Council resolved to open a commission of inquiry into Israel's alleged crimes against humanity.

"Therefore I would say that they appear to be defying... deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel," Pillay told a news briefing. "This is why again and again I say we cannot allow impunity, we cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on."

She also criticized the United States, Israel's main ally, for failing to use its influence with the Jewish state to halt the carnage.

"Many of my remarks have been directed to the United States since they are a party with influence over Israel to do much more to stop the killing, to bring the parties to the negotiating table. I've called also for an end to the blockade and an end to the occupation."

Pillay said that she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

"They have not only provided the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza but they've also provided almost $1 billion in providing the 'Iron Domes' to protect the Israels from rocket attacks," she said. "But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said on Thursday he would not accept any cease- fire that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels.

Gaza officials say at least 1,372 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.

Israel says it is acting to stop the Hamas rocket attacks.

Pillay said that as Israel prosecuted only four Israeli soldiers for its 2008/09 Operation Caste Lead, including one for alleged theft of a credit card, she did not expect it to investigate properly violations committed during its air strikes and ground assault on Gaza, now in its fourth week.

"But international law is clear that where a state is unable or unwilling to carry out investigations and prosecutions, the international (criminal justice) system applies," she said.

Previous UN commissions of inquiry into Israel incursions into Gaza have called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge.

"Accountability and justice cannot be expected to be achieved through (Israeli) domestic proceedings. This is evident from the lack of adequate investigations by Israel and no attempt whatsoever made by the international community to implement the recommendations made by the Gaza fact-finding mission report," Pillay said.

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