Assad’s atrocities turned into an exhibition at the U.N.

Josh Rogin writes: The rise of Islamic State has distracted many from the murderous assaults by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on his own citizens. Now advocates for those victims are attempting to shock world leaders into action with a novel approach: Gruesome photos of civilians tortured and murdered while in the custody of the Syrian regime are going on display Tuesday in the halls of the United Nations.

Almost a year after the Syrian defector known as Caesar escaped Syria with 55,000 photos documenting the systematic torture and murder of more 11,000 civilians, there has been little progress in holding the perpetrators accountable. Although the U.S. State Department has called Assad’s “machinery of death” the worst since the Nazis — and evidence emerged that as many as 10 European citizens were among those killed in custody — no prosecutions have moved forward.

So Caesar’s supporters will unveil a display showing atrocities committed by 24 of the regime’s security branches, which UN diplomats will see on their way to and from work each day. It comes just as a UN commission is threatening to release the names of Syrian government officials who are implicated in war crimes, a step toward their prosecution. [Continue reading…]

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Assad denies using barrel bombs in Syria

Jeremy Bowen: What about barrel bombs, you don’t deny that your forces use them?

Bashar al-Assad: I know about the army, they use bullets, missiles, and bombs. I haven’t heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots.

Bowen: Large barrels full of explosives and projectiles which are dropped from helicopters and explode with devastating effect. There’s been a lot of testimony about these things.

Assad: They’re called bombs. We have bombs, missiles and bullets… There is [are] no barrel bombs, we don’t have barrels.

Just to be clear about how crude barrel bombs are, watch the way they get dropped:

And the results:

And to the whataboutists who say, “But what about America’s use of drones and the civilians they kill?” I would respond: If you are appalled by the unnecessary loss of life and destruction caused by CIA drones, that’s all the more reason to be appalled by the Assad regime’s indiscriminate violence.

Those who are outraged by the fact that the U.S. has killed hundreds of innocent civilians through drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and yet for whom the vastly more extensive carnage in Syria has somehow become little more than background noise in a world at strife, might ask themselves what became of their humanitarian impulses?

There comes a point at which selective outrage shuts down the very thing out of which it was born: empathy.

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Obama administration cuts funds for investigating Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes

Foreign Policy reports: The U.S. State Department plans to cut its entire $500,000 in annual funding next year to an organization dedicated to sneaking into abandoned Syrian military bases, prisons, and government facilities to collect documents and other evidence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its proxies to war crimes and other mass atrocities during the country’s brutal civil war, according to the recipient of the assistance and a senior U.S. official.

The move, which has not previously been reported, comes as the Obama administration is stepping up funding to collect evidence of war crimes in Iraq by the Islamic State, an extremist Islamist organization that has horrified the world with its mass killings, enslavement of women, and beheadings of ethnic minorities, foreign aid workers, and journalists, including two American reporters who were executed in recent months. The funding shift has raised concern among human rights advocates that the United States and its allies are reducing their commitment to holding the Syrian leader accountable for the majority of Syria’s atrocities because the interests of Washington and Damascus are converging over the fight against the Islamic State.

For the past two years, the U.S. State Department has channeled a total of $1 million in funds to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a group of international war crimes prosecutors that sends local researchers, lawyers, and law students into Syrian battle zones to collect and extract files and other evidence that can help map the Syrian command structure and identify the military orders authorizing illegal activities, including barrel bomb campaigns, the starvation of besieged towns, and a spate of mass murders that have pushed the conflict’s death toll past 190,000 since March 2011.

The materials are part of a growing storehouse of evidence being collected inside Syria and then transported outside the country for safekeeping in the event that a court is set up at some time in the future for war crimes trials for senior regime officials. The commission has served as a critical plank of an American strategy aimed at assembling enough evidence to hold some of Syria’s worst violators of human rights accountable for their crimes at some point in the future.

But in an abrupt reversal, Obama administration officials recently notified the commission that the State Department would be eliminating its $500,000-a-year contribution, according to the group. [Continue reading…]

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Humiliation replaces fear for the women kidnapped by ISIS

The Guardian reports: They sold Amsha for $12. Other girls and women went for more, much more. But Amsha had a small son and was pregnant with her second child. She had already seen Islamic State (Isis) militants execute her husband in front of her. Now the terror of that crime and the fear of captivity was to be replaced by the indignity and humiliation of being traded like cattle.

“A 50-year-old man with a dark beard came to buy me,” she recalls. “From that day on, I didn’t want to live any more.”

Amsha is one of hundreds of Yazidi women from northern Iraq captured during Islamic State’s rapid advance this year. Interviews with women who escaped reveal that Isis corralled the women into halls and other detention centres and gradually sold them off to fighters as the spoils of war.

Isis said in an online article that it was reviving an ancient custom of enslaving enemies and forcing the women to become wives of victorious fighters.

“One should remember that enslaving the families of the [non-believers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the sharia, that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’an and the narrations of the prophet,” the article said, adding that mothers were not separated from their young children. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS holding thousands of women and children as slaves in Iraq and Syria

Emily Feldman reports: The Islamic State is currently holding thousands of people hostage inside ISIS territory, having taken members of the minority Yazidi sect captive this summer during a brutal campaign across northern Iraq.

While the United Nations has put the number of captives at about 2,500, other estimates are as high as 7,000. And prospects for any rescue are bleak.

Even as the U.S. and its allies bomb ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, the group has managed to hold on to key cities where it is reviving the practice of slavery.

The latest edition of Dabiq, an ISIS magazine, includes an impassioned argument for the practice as well as an account of how the Yazidi women from the Sinjar region of Iraq were distributed among the fighters.

“The Yazidi women and children were divided according to the Shariah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operation…to be divided as khums,” a kind of tax.

“The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers.”

The magazine also warns “weak-minded and weak-hearted” ISIS followers who might question or object to the practice of slavery.

“Enslaving the families of the [infidels] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shariah,” the article says. “If one were to deny or mock [it], he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Quran.”

The article’s description of how prisoners were dealt with closely mirrors accounts from the few who have escaped or managed to contact their loved-ones by phone.

Women were sold at slave markets, forced to marry and imprisoned in the homes of ISIS fighters across both Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Iraq: Evidence of war crimes by government-backed Shi’a militias

Amnesty: Shi’a militias, supported and armed by the government of Iraq, have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these war crimes, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today.

Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq provides harrowing details of sectarian attacks carried out by increasingly powerful Shi’a militias in Baghdad, Samarra and Kirkuk, apparently in revenge for attacks by the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS). Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of deliberate execution-style killings.

“By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart. Iraqi government support for militia rule must end now,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.

The fate of many of those abducted by Shi’a militias weeks and months ago remains unknown. Some captives were killed even after their families had paid ransoms of $80,000 and more to secure their release. [Continue reading…]

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Inside Bashar Assad’s torture chambers

Yahoo News reports: The State Department has obtained 27,000 photographs showing the emaciated, bruised and burned bodies of Syrian torture victims — gruesome images that a top official told Yahoo News constitute “smoking gun” evidence that can be used to bring war-crimes charges against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The photos are “horrific — some of them put you in visceral pain,” said Stephen J. Rapp, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, in an interview. “This is some of the strongest evidence we’ve seen in the area of proof of the commission of mass atrocities.”

The photos — a small number of which will be put on public display for the first time on Wednesday at the U.S. Holocaust Museum — were smuggled out of Syria by an official regime photographer who has since defected and is known only by his code name, Caesar.

They were shown at a closed-door session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July where Caesar, wearing a hood, testified. They are now being analyzed at Rapp’s request by the FBI in part as an effort to determine whether any U.S. citizens may have been among the victims — a finding that could be the basis to bring criminal charges in the U.S. against officials of the Assad regime. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS may have used chemical weapons against Kurds in Kobane canton in July

Huffington Post reports: The Islamic State militant group may possess chemical weapons that it has already used to extend its self-proclaimed caliphate, according to photos taken by Kurdish activists and examined by Israeli researchers.

The group, making gains in Iraq and Syria, may have captured chemical agents in Iraq in June and used them in July to kill three Kurdish fighters in the strategically important region of Kobani in northwest Syria, according to suggests a report released Sunday by the Global Research in International Affairs Center, a branch of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.

If verified, Islamic State’s possession of unconventional weapons could make international efforts against it more urgent, and bolster claims that the world has not responded quickly or powerfully enough to the threat. The group, also known as ISIS, has intensified its effort to conquer Kobani over the past month, and battles there have attracted global attention as the region’s defenders — both Kurds and U.S.-backed rebels — have urged international help.

Jonathan Spyer, author of the report, uses photographic evidence provided by Kurds in Kobani and a 2007 CIA report about the Iraqi chemical weapons production facility captured by ISIS in July to suggest that “on at least one occasion, Islamic State forces did employ some form of chemical agent, acquired from somewhere, against the [Syrian Kurdish forces] in Kobani.” He said Israeli chemical weapons experts examined the Kurds’ photographs. In response to questions from The Huffington Post, he declined to give their names.

“The probable possession by the Islamic State of a [chemical weapons] capability is for obvious reasons a matter of the gravest concern, and should be the urgent subject of further attention and investigation,” Spyer says.

The report accuses the Islamic State of using chemical weapons in a July 12 battle in an eastern part of Kobani during a previous offensive into the Kurdish enclave. The site of the battle is now controlled by ISIS. Spyer cites signs of a chemical weapons attack mentioned by the health minister of Kobani to the Lebanese online news outlet Al-Modon four days after the attack. In Spyer’s telling, the minister said that the corpses of three Kurdish fighters exhibited “burns and white spots … [that] indicated the use of chemicals, which led to deaths without any visible wounds or external bleeding.” The bodies had not been hit by bullets, the minister added.

Spyer’s report includes gruesome photographs of the bodies now circulating on social media alongside appeals for more help for the Syrian Kurds in Kobani.

In emails to The Huffington Post, Spyer said he had been given the pictures by Kurds in Kobani, whose identities he could not reveal. He said he takes them seriously because they were provided to him weeks ago — not to boost the case for international help to Kobani, but to spur an investigation by international authorities. [Continue reading…]

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The ISIS campaign of mass sexual violence

Aki Peritz and Tara Maller write: Of the many terrifying stories emerging from Islamic State-occupied Iraq and Syria, the violence directed toward women is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate.

The Islamic State’s (IS) fighters are committing horrific sexual violence on a seemingly industrial scale: For example, the United Nations last month estimated that IS has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls, and boys into sexual slavery. Amnesty International released a blistering document noting that IS abducts whole families in northern Iraq for sexual assault and worse. Even in the first few days following the fall of Mosul in June, women’s rights activists reported multiple incidents of IS fighters going door to door, kidnapping and raping Mosul’s women.

IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare.

Why isn’t this crime against humanity getting more consistent attention in the West? It seems this society-destroying mass sexual violence is merely part of the laundry list for decrying IS behavior. Compare this to IS’s recent spate of execution videos, and the industrial scale of the group’s sexual assaults seems to fade into the background. Rarely do they seem to be the focal point of politicians’ remarks, intelligence assessments, or justification for counterterrorism actions against the group.

In his Sept. 10 speech laying out his plan for fighting IS, President Obama devoted just eight words to the issue: “They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.” [Continue reading…]

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Kissinger still at work covering up his war crimes

In an interview broadcast on NPR on Saturday, “realist” supremo, Henry Kissinger, made this extraordinary statement:

I think we would find, if you study the conduct of [the military], that the Obama administration has hit more targets on a broader scale than the Nixon administration ever did. And, of course, B-52s have a different bombing pattern.

On the other hand, drones are far more deadly because they are much more accurate. And I think the principle is essentially the same. You attack locations where you believe people operate who are killing you. You do it in the most limited way possible. And I bet if one did an honest account, there were fewer civilian casualties in Cambodia than there have been from American drone attacks. [My emphasis.]

kissingerObviously, Kissinger’s purpose in making this claim is not to portray President Obama as a war criminal. After all, Obama often acts like one of Kissinger’s most devoted students.

Kissinger wants to be seen as having done during the Vietnam war what any American in his position would have done. And since from the American public there has been little opposition to Obama’s use of drones, Kissinger hopes to liken himself to Obama and thereby shed his image as a war criminal.

There’s no doubt that Obama’s use of drones has been cynical, counter-productive, and indeed a criminal exercise in extra-judicial killing. But for Kissinger to claim that more civilians have been killed by drones than he killed by carpet bombing Cambodia is outrageous, absurd, and patently false.

The Bureau for Investigative Journalism has been the leader in documenting the effects of America’s drone wars. Its estimate of the number of casualties in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2002 is at least 571 and at most 1225 civilian deaths.

In the four-year secret bombing campaign of Cambodia which Kissinger instigated, “the U.S. dropped 540,000 tons of bombs, killing anywhere from 150,000 to 500,000 civilians.”

The Trials of Henry Kissinger (2002) describes how this happened:

Kissinger is now 91 and no doubt increasingly preoccupied with how he will be remembered after his death. Americans born after the Vietnam era might view him as a figure from the past (if they view him in any way at all), but no one should underestimate his enduring influence. Ironically, his realist worldview has tacitly been accepted even by people who identify themselves as anti-interventionists and opponents of war and for whom Kissinger might be one of the despised characters in American history.

In post 9/11 America, even those who are willing to argue that U.S. foreign policy should be informed by humanitarian principles also feel compelled to bow towards U.S. national interests. For instance, in as much as there was any debate about military intervention in Syria after the chemical attacks a year ago, the element in the argument that carried more weight than any other was America’s national interest. The wide consensus that America had no appetite to become entangled in another war and that getting dragged into the war in Syria would not serve our interests, overshadowed any consideration about what might serve the interests of the Syrian people. Their appeals for international support in their struggle to overthrow Assad have fallen on deaf ears among those who believe that there is no cause greater than the pursuit of our national interests.

Likewise, when it comes to a global issue such as climate change, America’s role in having precipitated the crisis and the fact that world’s poor living in flood-prone countries such as Bangladesh will suffer the worst consequences, appear to be of less influence in shaping American public opinion than are perceptions of how much the U.S. will be affected. In other words, to the extent that Americans believe this country can adapt and even prosper, the expectation that we can live while millions of others die, makes climate change look like a manageable problem.

Kissinger doesn’t have to worry about his legacy because with very few exceptions, Americans are all Kissingers now.

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Gruesome evidence of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq as ISIS moves to wipe out minorities

Fresh evidence uncovered by Amnesty International indicates that members of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) have launched a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Iraq, carrying out war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions, against ethnic and religious minorities.

A new briefing, Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq, published today presents a series of hair-raising accounts from survivors of massacres who describe how dozens of men and boys in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq were rounded up by Islamic State fighters, bundled into pick-up trucks and taken to village outskirts to be massacred in groups or shot individually. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and children, along with scores of men, from the Yezidi minority have also been abducted since the Islamic State took control of the area.

“The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser currently in northern in Iraq.

“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non- Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.”

Amnesty International has gathered evidence that several mass killings took place in Sinjar in August. Two of the deadliest incidents took place when IS fighters raided the villages of Qiniyeh on 3 August and Kocho on 15 August. The number of those killed in these villages alone runs into the hundreds. Groups of men and boys including children as young as 12 from both villages were seized by IS militants, taken away and shot.

“There was no order, they [the IS fighters] just filled up vehicles indiscriminately,” one survivor of the massacre in Kocho told Amnesty International.

Said, who also narrowly escaped death with his brother, Khaled, was shot five times; three times in his left knee and once in the hip and shoulder. They lost seven brothers in the massacre. Another survivor, Salem, who managed to hide and survive near the massacre site for 12 days described to Amnesty International the horror of hearing others who had been injured cry out in pain.

“Some could not move and could not save themselves; they lay there in agony waiting to die. They died a horrible death. I managed to drag myself away and was saved by a Muslim neighbour; he risked his life to save me; he is more than a brother to me. For 12 days he brought me food and water every night. I could not walk and had no hope of getting away and it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to continue to keep me there,” he said.

He was later able to escape by donkey and rode to the mountains and then on into the areas controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

The mass killings and abductions have succeeded in terrorizing the entire population in northern Iraq leading thousands to flee in fear for their lives.

The fate of most of the hundreds of Yezidis abducted and held captive by the Islamic State remains unknown. Many of those held by IS have been threatened with rape or sexual assault or pressured to convert to Islam. In some cases entire families have been abducted. [Continue reading…]

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Teenager describes being used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers

The New York Times reports: A Palestinian teenager says that Israeli soldiers detained him for five days last month, forcing him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed in his underwear and to search and dig for tunnels in Khuza’a, his village near Gaza’s eastern border, which was all but destroyed in the fighting.

The teenager, Ahmed Jamal Abu Raida, said the soldiers assumed he was connected to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that dominates Gaza, insulted him and Allah and threatened to sic a dog on him.

“My life was in danger,” Ahmed, 17, said in one of two lengthy interviews on Thursday and Friday. As soldiers made him walk in front of them through the neighborhood and check houses for tunnels, he added, “In every second, I was going to the unknown.”

His assertions, of actions that would violate both international law and a 2005 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, could not be independently corroborated; Ahmed’s father, Jamal Abu Raida, who held a senior position in Gaza’s Tourism Ministry under the Hamas-controlled government, said the family forgot to take photographs documenting any abuse in its happiness over the youth’s return, and disposed of the clothing he was given upon his release. The case was publicized Thursday by Defense for Children International-Palestine, an organization whose reports on abuses of Palestinian youths in West Bank military jails have been challenged by the Israeli authorities.

The Israeli military confirmed that troops had suspected Ahmed of being a militant and detained him during their ground operation in Gaza, noting his father’s affiliation with Hamas. A military spokesman promised several times to provide more details, but ultimately did not deal with the substance of the allegations, saying they had “been referred to the appropriate authorities for examination.”

A military statement also challenged the credibility of D.C.I.-Palestine, which accused the Israeli military of using Ahmed as a human shield by coercing him to engage in military actions. Throughout the current conflict, Israel has argued that Hamas uses Gaza residents as human shields by conducting militant activity in crowded public places.

“D.C.I.-Palestine’s report represents a perverse inversion of a truth in which Hamas persistently engages in the use of human shields, while the I.D.F.’s code of conduct rejects, in absolute terms, such behavior,” the military statement said, using the abbreviation for the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli soldiers could not have used human shields because they are all good boys who follow the rules.

What kind of imbecile in the IDF sees fit to present this line of reasoning? Israeli arrogance, in its contempt for the intelligence of others, is itself a form of idiocy.

In 2010, Haaretz reported:

The southern command military court convicted two Israeli soldiers on Sunday of using human shields during Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, in the winter of 2008-2009.

The soldiers were convicted of offenses including inappropriate behavior and overstepping authority for ordering an 11-year-old Palestinian to search bags suspected to have been booby trapped.

The conviction is the first such conviction for what is termed in the Israel Defense Forces “neighbor procedure” – the use of human shields during searches and pursuits, which has been outlawed.

Note: this was the first conviction — not the first occurrence.

Moreover, when the report notes that the use of human shields has been outlawed, this alludes to two facts:

1. That the use of human shields was standard practice in the IDF, and
2. that even after Israel’s high court ruled that the use of human shields was illegal, the IDF tried to get the ruling overturned.

The fact that the IDF failed in that effort, does not infer that individual soldiers stopped viewing the use of human shields as serving their interests — merely that those engaging in this practice would understand that they would need to take greater effort to avoid getting caught.

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Israel’s war on Palestine: It’s bad, but is it ‘genocide’?

Charles Davis writes: “It’s heartbreaking to see,” said US President Barack Obama of the death and destruction his government has helped the state of Israel deliver to the people of Gaza. It’s “really heartbreaking,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry of the nearly 2,000 innocent people killed by the Israeli military with weapons provided by the US government. “The loss of children has been particularly heartbreaking,” said Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, of dead little boys and girls — more than 400 of them — being stacked on top of one another in a freezer meant for ice cream because Gaza’s morgues are overflowing with corpses.

There are a lot of words that one could use to describe the collective punishment of a stateless people living in what a top United Nations official describes as an “open-air prison,” but “heartbreaking” is perhaps the most inadequate, suggesting that there’s a certain tragic inevitability to Israel’s bombardments of Gaza, to which the only proper response is a shrug and a shake of the head. It’s acceptable to lament Israel’s killing of innocents, but the repeated bombing of UN schools packed with thousands of frightened civilians is, according to the harshest respectable critics, a strategic error — a case of “good intentions” paving the way to hell on Earth for Palestinians — not a reason to withdraw support for the settler-colonial project in Palestine or to “delegitimize” the idea of a state explicitly founded on ethnic supremacy.

Israel’s brutality is, of course, tragic, and the killing of babies is never a good look, but it’s more than just heartbreaking folly. “It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Widely viewed as an ally of the US and Israel, Ban nonetheless has labeled Israel’s deliberate targeting of UN schools in Gaza a “gross violation of international humanitarian law.”

Amnesty International has likewise accused Israel of committing “crimes against humanity” over its targeting of hospitals, ambulances, and first-responders, saying the state should be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. And Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of “blatantly violating the laws of war,” with the group documenting numerous instances in which Israeli soldiers went out of their way to shoot fleeing civilians. But no Western official has called the terrorizing of 1.8 million people living in Gaza an “act of terrorism,” though it is openly intended to bring about political change and punish the people of Palestine for electing the wrong leaders. And while you’ll hear the word at protests, the leading human rights organizations have refrained from calling it “genocide.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel braces for war crimes inquiries on Gaza

The New York Times reports: The fighting is barely over in the latest Gaza war, with a five-day cease-fire taking hold on Thursday, but attention has already shifted to the legal battlefield as Israel gears up to defend itself against international allegations of possible war crimes in the monthlong conflict.

Israel has excoriated the United Nations Human Rights Council over the appointment of Prof. William Schabas, a Canadian expert in international law, to head the council’s commission of inquiry for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip.

The broader struggle will be over what some experts describe as Israel’s “creative” interpretation of international law for dealing with asymmetric warfare in an urban environment. More than 1,900 Palestinians were killed in the recent fighting, a majority of them believed to be civilians, while on the Israeli side 64 soldiers and three civilians were killed.

Israeli leaders view the Human Rights Council as hopelessly biased against Israel and say statements made in the past by Professor Schabas rule him out as a fair adjudicator. In one prime example, Professor Schabas was filmed in New York almost two years ago saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was his “favorite” to be in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

“The report of this committee has already been written,” Mr. Netanyahu said this week. “They have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli.”

Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Hamas of a “double war crime” for targeting Israeli civilians with its rockets and, he says, using Gaza’s civilians as a human shield for its activities.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said that paradoxically, the only way Professor Schabas could prove he was worthy of the job would be by resigning from it.

Responding to the charges by telephone from London, Professor Schabas said Thursday: “Everybody in the world has opinions about Israel and Palestine. I certainly do.”

He added: “I was recruited for my expertise. I leave my own personal views at the door, as a judge does.”

Rejecting assertions that he is “anti-Israeli,” he said he had lectured in Israel often and was on the board of the Israel Law Review. “I don’t think everyone in Israel agrees,” he said. “I would fit in well there.” [Continue reading…]

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#Hamas pushes Abbas to join #ICC

David Hearst reports: Hamas has decided to demand that President Mahmoud Abbas sign the Rome Statute which will allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court as a full member, even though the militant movement itself could be subject to prosecution, sources told the Middle East Eye.

Hamas’s deputy chairman and chief negotiator in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk has been instructed to sign the document supporting the State of Palestine as a member of the ICC in The Hague, the MEE has learned. The decision comes after a top level meeting between the Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas.

The document already contains the signatures of the PLO executive committee, Fatah Central Committee and other PLO organisations such as the Popular Front and the Democratic Front. But Abbas himself is resisting, as a result of the forceful opposition of the United States and the European Union.

A tape in which Erekat criticised Abbas’s refusal to join the ICC was leaked recently. In it, Erekat is alleged to have criticised Abbas for stalling on the question of the ICC. Since then, Erekat has been at the forefront of a campaign to force Abbas’ hand. The PLO held a meeting recently in which all Palestinian factions put their name to joining the ICC. [Continue reading…]

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How the #Israeli discourse on terrorism seeks to justify blatant #WarCrimes

Rémi Brulin writes: Appearing on CNN a few days into the current offensive in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Hamas as “the worst terrorists, genocidal terrorists.” He said they want to “pile up as many civilian dead as they can,” and, he added, to “use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”

By contrast, Israeli strikes are said to be aimed at the “terrorists,” who are by definition legitimate targets. Any civilian casualties that may result from such uses of force are unintentional, and in fact should be blamed squarely on Hamas. Indeed, Netanyahu explained, not only do they target civilians but they also “hide behind civilians,” thus committing “a double war crime.”

According to this narrative, often embraced in toto by elected officials and political commentators in the United States, “terrorism” is a very clear, non-controversial concept. “Terrorism” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes.

This discourse on “terrorism” is a deeply moral discourse, one that makes important normative claims about a given conflict and the parties to it.

It draws its power from a simple claim: what separates “us” from “them” is a fundamental conception of the value of innocent life. “We” respect innocent lives, demonstrated by our refusal to target civilians. In stark contrast, not only are “the terrorists” more than willing to hurt our civilians, but they also hope that we will kill theirs too.

The discourse on “terrorism” is thus an essentialist discourse: it claims to say something about the very essence of “the enemy” (cue recurring references to “barbarism”) and, consequently, about us (and our “civilized” values.)

On closer inspection however, this discourse fails precisely where it claims to be strongest. Israel’s actual practices, informed by its combat doctrine, are fundamentally at odds with how international law defines the concept of “civilian.” In actual fact, the discourse on “terrorism” and the practices it informs and justifies drastically erode the distinction between civilian and combatants as commonly understood in International Humanitarian Law. [Continue reading…]

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International criminal court urged to investigate #Gaza ‘crimes’

The Guardian reports: Senior British lawyers have written to the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague, urging it to investigate “crimes” committed in Gaza, including the destruction of homes, hospitals and schools.

The letter was sent by Kirsty Brimelow QC, the chair of the Bar Council’s human rights committee, and was signed by a host of senior British barristers and law professors.

Addressed to the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, it calls on the court to launch a preliminary inquiry into abuses committed during the conflict.

“The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords,” the letter states.

“It would bring about an end to the impunity which has prevailed in the region to date, fuelling ever increasingly brutal cycles of violence. The international community cannot continue to act simply as witness to such bloodshed and extreme civilian suffering.”

The lawyers say that it is within the ICC’s jurisdiction to act because the government of Palestine made a declaration in 2009 accepting the court’s role and the UN has since acknowledged Palestine as a non-member observer state. [Continue reading…]

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HRW: There needs to be criminal accountability for war crimes in Gaza

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