Jamil Dakwar Headshot

Goldstone Report is Not to Be Ignored

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Last Tuesday, after months of exhaustive research, including
conducting 188 interviews and reviewing 300 reports, 10,000 pages of
documents, 30 videos, and 1,200 photographs, the United Nations
Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict released the findings of its
investigation in a thoroughly documented 575 page report. This
independent mission was given a mandate by the U.N. Human Rights
Council to investigate allegations of war crimes and serious
violations of international human rights law committed by both Israel
and Palestinian armed groups before, during, and after the military
operations in Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009 that
claimed the lives of more than 700 Palestinian civilians and three
Israeli civilians.

The mission was led by Justice Richard Goldstone, formerly a judge of
the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the chief prosecutor of the
United Nations' International Criminal Tribunals for the former
Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and a governor of the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem. In accepting this duty, Justice Goldstone reiterated that
his mission would undertake "an independent, evenhanded and unbiased
investigation."

The report concluded that both Israel and Palestinian armed groups
perpetrated war crimes and other serious violations of international
human rights and humanitarian law. The report also found that some of
the actions carried out by Israel and Palestinian armed group may have
risen to the level of crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the
Israeli government refused to cooperate with the investigation, but
members of the mission had access to Gaza and heard testimony from
both Palestinians and Israelis, including the Israeli Mayor of
Ashkelon.

The report's findings demand action by the international community,
including the United States. The importance of U.S. action is
elevated because the U.S. currently holds the Presidency of the U.N.
Security Council, the U.N. body charged with enforcing the report's
conclusions in the absence of credible internal investigations by both
Israel and the de facto Hamas government in Gaza. This report provides
the Obama administration a new opportunity to match its rhetoric with
reality vis-à-vis a renewed U.S. commitment to international justice
and to reforming U.S. foreign policy in a manner that respects,
protects, nd enforces human rights around the world. Unfortunately,
initial statements from the Obama administration signal an intention
to maintain the Bush administration's efforts to obstruct justice for
human rights violations committed by U.S. allies. Unable to challenge
the factual findings in the report, U.S. officials have instead
questioned the legitimacy of the mission's mandate and its
recommendations. And the administration has added Israel to a growing
list of those shielded from accountability through its "look forward,
not backward" rhetoric, used thus far to successfully shield Bush
administration officials from accountability for committing torture
and other federal and international crimes.

Both of these approaches were apparent on Wednesday when U.S.
Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice stated: "We have very serious
concerns about many of the recommendations in the report. ... [O]ur
view is that we need to be focused on the future. This is a time to
work to cement progress towards the resumptions of negotiations and
their early and successful conclusion...." Instead of working to uphold
the rule of law, the administration argues that the need to revive the
"peace process" trumps the need for accountability. The Obama
administration must remember that its duty to uphold the rule of law
is not subject to political expediency, it is an absolute obligation.
The Obama administration must also remember that peace and justice are
two sides of the same coin, as Desmond Tutu noted in a March 2009 New
York Times op-ed in support of the Bashir indictment by the>
International Criminal Court: "there can be no real peace and security
until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land."

Violations of international law did not end with the cessation of
Israel's military campaign last January. Israel continues to wage its
crippling blockade of Gaza in violation of the laws of war. By
granting Israel a perpetual exemption from upholding international
human rights standards, the U.S. plays into the hands of massive human
rights violators around the world, including Sudan, who argue that any
attempt to hold them accountable amounts to selective enforcement of
the law. If we are to have a truly universal human rights system,
these double standards must stop. All must be held accountable for
their actions, regardless of their status as friend or foe. Both U.S.
standing in the world as well as global efforts to protect and enforce
human rights will be greatly undermined if documented war crimes
committed by Israel and Palestinian armed groups continue to be
ignored. Justice Goldstone's fact finding mission and report provide
an opportunity for the U.S. to support accountability over impunity,
and reassert its leadership in the global human rights movement by
standing with the victims of war crimes. The report's facts are
thoroughly researched and documented, its authors carry impeccable
credentials, and its conclusions are impartial. The U.S. should
embrace the mission and its report as a model for how to investigate
and document violations of international law, not work to subvert it.

Jamil Dakwar is a human rights lawyer and former senior attorney for
the Israeli human rights group Adalah. The writer is submitting this
piece in his personal capacity and not as an ACLU staff member.