Scott Anderson writes: Amor Masovic has the gaze and mournful air of a man who never gets enough sleep. For nearly two decades, his job has been to find the mass graves containing thousands who disappeared during the Bosnian war. He is very good at what he does, and he has a mind for numbers. When I first met him in the summer of 2012, Masovic calculated that he and his colleagues at the Bosnian government’s Missing Persons Institute had found more than 700 mass graves, containing the remains of nearly 25,000 people.
“I think we’ve found all the larger ones now,” Masovic told me as we sat in a smoke-filled cafe in Sarajevo. He had just returned from another foray into the field; his boots were still caked in mud. “But that still leaves a lot of smaller ones.” Exactly how many more depends on the definition of “mass grave.” If you go by the current definition (a grave that contains three or more people), then Masovic’s guess is that there are 80 to 100 still to be discovered. Of those, he suspects that 15 to 20 contain more than 50 bodies.
He has any number of methods for locating the graves. He goes by the testimonies of survivors or by cajoling people in Bosnia’s small villages and towns into pointing him toward places they know about. Other times it’s simply a matter of reading subtle changes in the landscape. “I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said, “that I can be walking or driving somewhere, and I see a spot and think, Hmm, that would be a good place for a grave. I’ve found some that way.” In fact, “grave” is often a misnomer. Masovic has found human remains in mineshafts and caves and dry lakebeds. “They’re everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere you can think of.”
Of all the atrocities committed throughout Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, the one that compels Masovic the most is Srebrenica. In some respects, this is hardly surprising: Srebrenica has come to symbolize the Bosnian war’s unspeakable brutality and the international community’s colossal failure when confronting it. Located in a tiny valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the site of one of the war’s most desperate contests, a marooned enclave in which a couple of thousand government soldiers, along with as many as 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees, held out for three years against a siege by Serb separatist fighters.
For more than half that time, Srebrenica was under international military protection, one of six United Nations-designated “safe areas” established throughout the country in 1993. That status proved meaningless when the Serbs launched an all-out assault in July 1995. Instead of resisting, the U.N. Protection Force in Srebrenica stood down, and over the next few days, the Serbs hunted and killed more than 8,000 men and boys, most of whom were trying to escape the enclave by foot. It was the worst slaughter, and the first officially recognized act of genocide, to occur on European soil since World War II.
For Masovic, the massacre in Srebrenica presents a special professional challenge. Only about a thousand of those fleeing were killed outright. The other 7,000 were captured and taken to various killing fields for execution, their bodies dumped into mass graves. Shortly afterward, however, Serb commanders ordered the original graves dug up and the remains moved to a series of smaller mass graves along the Drina River basin — the so-called Valley of Death — that they hoped would never be found. “This has made Srebrenica our greatest challenge,” Masovic said.
But there is something else, too. The slaughter occurred in the waning days of the war, when the signs were that the international community was about to force a political settlement in Bosnia. Consequently the killings were particularly senseless, one last orgy of bloodletting before the fighting stopped.
“You could say that maybe I am even haunted by that,” Masovic said, staring at the cafe table and absently kneading his fingers. “The evidence gives the chance for moral satisfaction,” he said. “To try to give it some kind of meaning, to at least help the families, this is why it’s so important to me to find those men.”
Masovic began to muse on the potential whereabouts of the 1,100 or so men still unaccounted for. “Probably it means there are some graves we haven’t found,” he muttered, “or maybe a lot of them were thrown in the Drina.” Periodically he hikes portions of the trail that the doomed men tried to take out of the valley. In the early years, he almost always came upon remains, but that has now become rare. “At this point, I don’t think there’s many more still in the forest,” he said. “Maybe 50, 100.”
Masovic is one of the point men in an extraordinary international effort to identify the victims and the perpetrators of the Bosnian war. In 2012, after years of meticulous labor, the Norwegian-funded Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo released “The Bosnian Book of the Dead,” a four-volume compendium that sought to list every known fatality of the conflict (a tally that came in at slightly more than 100,000 rather than the 200,000 figure often cited by the media). That report also underscored the highly sectarian nature of the conflict; of the 43,000 civilians killed, 82 percent were Muslims, and 10 percent were Serbs.
This accounting has been especially comprehensive with Srebrenica. Since 1999, Masovic and his colleagues have transferred any remains discovered there to a mortuary in Tuzla that was built by the International Commission on Missing Persons (I.C.M.P.). Working off a DNA database of more than 22,000 living relatives of the missing, the I.C.M.P. has positively identified nearly 7,000 of those killed — and Masovic’s organization has come up with a remarkably specific number for the dead: 8,372. At the same time, international war-crime prosecutors have intently focused on the massacre, indicting 21 people on charges that include everything from “inhumane acts” to genocide. All of these efforts taken together make Srebrenica one of the most thoroughly documented war crimes in history.
Amid Masovic’s grim recitation, though, there was something I found puzzling. Mass murder on the scale that occurred in Srebrenica must have required hundreds of actors — to stand guard over the captives, to transport them to the killing fields, to bury and then rebury them. At least some of these participants must have confided to a wife, a brother, a priest. Given this enormous pool of potential informants, how could there be many secrets left, many more graves to be found? I asked Masovic what percentage of his discoveries had been a result of conscience-stricken Serbs’ coming forward.
“Percentage?” He smiled thinly. Other than a posthumous letter, he has received only one other tip, a note signed simply, “A Serb from Foca,” that led him to a mass grave. “Maybe you can say this man was stricken by half-conscience,” Masovic said, “because he still didn’t have the courage to sign his name. But other than that Serb? Not one. In 17 years, not one.”
That detail goes to the heart of the struggle facing Bosnia nearly two decades after the war: How do you knit back together a society when those primarily responsible for tearing it apart don’t believe they did anything wrong? [Continue reading...]
Clay Claiborne writes: I made a documentary about the Vietnam War five years ago, Vietnam: American Holocaust. Since I wanted it to be the ultimate Vietnam War documentary, I got the guy who narrated and starred in Apocalypse Now to do the voice-over. I made it because too many educated Americans will tell you 58,000 people died in the Vietnam War, when the real number is closer to three million, give or take 50,000. The tag line I have used to promote the film has been “The Vietnam War was a Mỹ Lai every week.” Since most people know about the Mỹ Lai massacre, it is an easy way to say what the film’s message is. The month after I released the film, Nick Turse published an article in The Nation titled “A Mỹ Lai a Month” about Operation Speedy Express, in which 10,889 Vietnamese were killed at the cost of only 267 American lives, which made much the same point.
That point, already known to the Vietnamese, most serious students of the Vietnam War, and certainly most combat vets, is that the only thing really outstanding about the Mỹ Lai massacre is the amount of attention it received.
Consider this relatively unknown massacre related by, Scott Camil, a decorated Vietnam combat Marine who testifies in my film. Why is it any less deserving to be known to the world and remembered throughout history?
In Operation Stone we were sitting up on the rail road trestle with a river on each side. There’s another company behind each river. And like the people were running around inside. And we were just shooting them and the newspaper said Operation Stone like World War Two movie. We just sat up there and wiped them out, women, children, everything. Two hundred nine-one of them.
Was this not worthy of Pulitzer Prize winning reportage? Certainly Operation Speedy Express was because it clearly wasn’t a simple case of a Lieutenant and his company going off the reservation.
I have long been of the opinion that the US imperialists, even in their limited wisdom, understood they could never obliterate the people’s memory of the many atrocities of the Vietnam War, so they allowed one to become famous, they allowed one to be publicized and prosecuted, in the hopes that the public memory of the generalized and pervasive massacres that was the Vietnam War, would be resolved down to the memory of this one atrocity, and in this they have been largely successful. I believe this is the proper context to view Seymour Hersh’s Pulitzer Prizing winning reporting on the Mỹ Lai Massacre. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Syrian government officials could face war crimes charges in the light of a huge cache of evidence smuggled out of the country showing the “systematic killing” of about 11,000 detainees, according to three eminent international lawyers.
The three, former prosecutors at the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, examined thousands of Syrian government photographs and files recording deaths in the custody of regime security forces from March 2011 to last August.
Most of the victims were young men and many corpses were emaciated, bloodstained and bore signs of torture. Some had no eyes; others showed signs of strangulation or electrocution.
The UN and independent human rights groups have documented abuses by both Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels, but experts say this evidence is more detailed and on a far larger scale than anything else that has yet emerged from the 34-month crisis.
The three lawyers interviewed the source, a military policeman who worked secretly with a Syrian opposition group and later defected and fled the country. In three sessions in the last 10 days they found him credible and truthful and his account “most compelling”.
They put all evidence under rigorous scrutiny, says their report, which has been obtained by the Guardian and CNN.
The authors are Sir Desmond de Silva QC, former chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the former lead prosecutor of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic, and Professor David Crane, who indicted President Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Sierra Leone court.
The defector, who for security reasons is identified only as Caesar, was a photographer with the Syrian military police. He smuggled the images out of the country on memory sticks to a contact in the Syrian National Movement, which is supported by the Gulf state of Qatar. Qatar, which has financed and armed rebel groups, has called for the overthrow of Assad and demanded his prosecution.
The 31-page report, which was commissioned by a leading firm of London solicitors acting for Qatar, is being made available to the UN, governments and human rights groups. Its publication appears deliberately timed to coincide with this week’s UN-organised Geneva II peace conference, which is designed to negotiate a way out of the Syrian crisis by creating a transitional government. [Continue reading...]
The Independent reports: A devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, has been presented to the International Criminal Court, and could result in some of Britain’s leading defence figures facing prosecution for “systematic” war crimes.
General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the British Army; former defence secretary Geoff Hoon; and former defence minister Adam Ingram are among those named in the report, entitled “The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008″.
The damning dossier draws on cases of more than 400 Iraqis, representing “thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.
They range from “hooding” prisoners to burning, electric shocks, threats to kill and “cultural and religious humiliation”. Other forms of alleged abuse include sexual assault, mock executions, threats of rape, death, and torture.
The formal complaint to the ICC, lodged yesterday, is the cumulation of several years’ work by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). It calls for an investigation into the alleged war crimes, under Article 15 of the Rome Statute.
The dossier, seen by The Independent on Sunday, is the most detailed ever submitted to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor on war crimes allegedly committed by British forces in Iraq. The court has already acknowledged that there was little doubt that war crimes were committed. [Continue reading...]
I wasn’t scared of drones before, but now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?
- Nabeela, eight-year-old granddaughter of US drone strike victim Mamana Bibi
On a sunny afternoon in October 2012, 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was killed in a drone strike that appears to have been aimed directly at her. Her grandchildren recounted in painful detail to Amnesty International the moment when Mamana Bibi, who was gathering vegetables in the family fields in Ghundi Kala village, northwest Pakistan, was blasted into pieces before their eyes. Nearly a year later, Mamana Bibi’s family has yet to receive any acknowledgment that it was the US that killed her, let alone justice or compensation for her death.
Earlier, on 6 July 2012, 18 male laborers, including at least one boy, were killed in a series of US drone strikes in the remote village of Zowi Sidgi. Missiles first struck a tent in which some men had gathered for an evening meal after a hard day’s work, and then struck those who came to help the injured from the first strike. Witnesses described a macabre scene of body parts and blood, panic and terror, as US drones continued to hover overhead.
The use of pilotless aircraft, commonly referred to as drones, for surveillance and so-called targeted killings by the USA has fast become one of the most controversial human rights issues in the world. In no place is this more apparent than in Pakistan.
The circumstances of civilian deaths from drone strikes in northwest Pakistan are disputed. The USA, which refuses to release detailed information about individual strikes, claims that its drone operations are based on reliable intelligence, are extremely accurate, and that the vast majority of people killed in such strikes are members of armed groups such as the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. Critics claim that drone strikes are much less discriminating, have resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, some of which may amount to extrajudicial executions or war crimes, and foster animosity that increases recruitment into the very groups the USA seeks to eliminate.
According to NGO and Pakistan government sources the USA has launched some 330 to 374 drone strikes in Pakistan between 2004 and September 2013. Amnesty International is not in a position to endorse these figures, but according to these sources, between 400 and 900 civilians have been killed in these attacks and at least 600 people seriously injured. [Continue reading...]
See Amnesty’s 76-page report, ‘Will I be Next?’ U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan.
A 97-page report produced by Human Rights Watch examines six US targeted killings in Yemen, one from 2009 and the rest from 2012-2013. Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.
The Guardian reports: The men and women who helped hide Ratko Mladic through his many years as a fugitive saw him as a Serb hero. But just in case their loyalty should waver, they were presented with a gift: photographs of their children. The implication was clear: if we can shoot them with a camera, we can shoot them by other means as well.
The Bosnian Serb general, now on trial in The Hague for genocide and other crimes against humanity, eluded capture for 14 years, with the help of the Serbian military, then his wartime lieutenants, then his family. But the common factor throughout was fear.
The stocky, ruddy-faced, ex-artillery officer made a career out of terror. He oversaw the three years of the Sarajevo siege and the daily attrition of its residents by shelling and sniping. He was also at the Muslim enclave in Srebrenica in July 1995, reassuring panicked women captives their loved ones would be safe, while his men were rounding up and slaughtering 8,000 men and boys. It was the worst atrocity Europe has witnessed since the Nazi era.
After the war, Mladic withdrew to Han Pijesak in eastern Bosnia, where the communists had built a reinforced bunker to resist invasion. But in 1997 when Nato troops finally began looking for war criminals, he slipped across the river Drina from the separatist Bosnian Serb republic to Serbia proper, where President Slobodan Milosevic, the mastermind behind the “ethnic cleansing” of non-Serbs, was ready to offer shelter. But Mladic’s days as a wanted man had only just begun.
From interviews with relatives, court records as well as the accounts of Serbian and international investigators who ultimately tracked Mladic down in 2011, the Guardian has been able to piece together a detailed picture of the general’s years in hiding.
While the ability to evade his pursuers for so long burnished his folk-hero image among nationalists as a Serbian Scarlet Pimpernel, the reality was more mundane and brutal. He stayed free by trusting fewer and fewer people, living in increasing isolation and squalor, ensuring silence with the threat of force. [Continue reading...]
Tina Rosenberg writes: The choreography of a typical human rights investigation goes like this: Researchers interview victims and witnesses and write their report. The local media cover it — if they can. Then those accused dismiss it; you have nothing more than stories, it’s one word against another, the sources are biased, the evidence faked. And it goes away.
On March 13, 2002, in a courtroom in The Hague, something different happened. In the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Patrick Ball, an American statistician, presented numbers to support the case that Milosevic had pursued a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. “We find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that Yugoslav forces forced people from their homes, forced Albanian Kosovars from their homes, and killed people,” Ball said.
Ball made this statement under cross-examination by Milosevic’s lawyer, who was, in fact, Milosevic himself. Over two days, the former president of Yugoslavia used his time to rage at Ball: The evidence was fabricated. The organizations that gathered the data were anti-Serb, trying to “galvanize public opinion and raise hostility against the Serbs and the desire to punish them,” Milosevic insisted. War is chaos, he said — how can you be so simplistic as to think that outcomes have a single cause? Why didn’t you examine Serb refugee flows? How can you, a self-described supporter of international law, be considered objective?
These were the usual arguments. They seldom persuade, but their mere existence creates a counterweight to the accusations made by human rights groups: Someone who wants to claim it’s their word against ours now has something to grasp. But Ball offered far more as evidence than interviews with Albanians who had fled their villages. He had obtained records from Kosovo’s borders of who left and when. He had exhumation data and a wealth of information about the displaced. In short, he had numbers.
Traditionally, human rights work has been more akin to investigative reporting, but Ball is the most influential of a handful of people around the world who see that world not in terms of words, but of figures. His specialty is applying quantitative analysis to mountains of anecdotes, finding the correlations that coax out a story that cannot easily be dismissed.
Could the movements of refugees have been random? No, Ball said. He had also plotted killings of Kosovars and found that both phenomena occurred at the same times and in the same places — flight and death, hand in hand. “I remember well the moment of astonishment that I felt when I saw the killing graph for the first time,” Ball replied to Milosevic. “I assumed I had made an error, because the correlation was so close.”
Something had caused both phenomena, and Ball examined three possibilities. First, the surges in killings and flight did not happen during or shortly after NATO bombings. Nor were they consistent with the pattern of attacks by Albanian guerrilla groups. They were consistent, however, with the third hypothesis, that Serb forces conducted a systematic campaign of killing and expulsions.
In testifying, Ball was doing something other human rights workers can only fantasize about: He confronted the accused, presented him with evidence, and watched him being held to account. At that point, Milosevic in his four wars had killed some 125,000 people, more than anyone in Europe since Stalin. But now the Butcher of the Balkans sat in a courtroom that looked rather like a community college classroom, with two Dutch police officers behind him and his cell waiting for him at the end of each day’s session, rhetorical bluster his only available weapon against Ball’s evidence.
Milosevic died before the trial ended. Ball returned to Washington and then went on to Lima to work for Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission — one of dozens of truth commissions, tribunals, and investigatory bodies where his methods have changed our understanding of war. [Continue reading...]
Dahr Jamail reports: While the US military has formally withdrawn from Iraq, doctors and residents of Fallujah are blaming weapons like depleted uranium and white phosphorous used during two devastating US attacks on Fallujah in 2004 for what are being described as “catastrophic” levels of birth defects and abnormalities.
Dr Samira Alani, a paediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.
“We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine,” Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.
As of December 21, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.
“There are not even medical terms to describe some of these conditions because we’ve never seen them until now,” she said. “So when I describe it all I can do is describe the physical defects, but I’m unable to provide a medical term.”
Most of these babies in Fallujah die within 20 to 30 minutes after being born, but not all.
Four-year-old Abdul Jaleel Mohammed was born in October 2007. His clinical diagnosis includes dilation of two heart ventricles, and a growth on his lower back that doctors have not been able to remove.
Abdul has trouble controlling his muscles, struggles to walk, cannot control his bladder, and weakens easily. Doctors told his father, Mohamed Jaleel Abdul Rahim, that his son has severe nervous system problems, and could develop fluid build-up in his brain as he ages, which could prove fatal.
“This is the first instance of something like this in all our family,” Rahim told Al Jazeera. “We lived in an area that was heavily bombed by the Americans in 2004, and a missile landed right in front of our home. What else could cause these health problems besides this?”
Dr Alani told Al Jazeera that in the vast majority of cases she has documented, the family had no prior history of congenital abnormalities.
Alani showed Al Jazeera hundreds of photos of babies born with cleft palates, elongated heads, a baby born with one eye in the centre of its face, overgrown limbs, short limbs, and malformed ears, noses and spines. [H/t Mondoweiss]
Public prosecutors in Germany are looking into a war crimes complaint filed against Israel by two members of parliament with the far-left Left Party and a human rights activist who were on board the Mavi Marmara when Israeli troops stormed it 11 days ago.
Eleven days ago, the Israeli military stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla carrying pro-Palestinian activists toward the Gaza Strip in an attempt to break the Israeli blockade. Now, it has become a case for German prosecutors.
Human rights activist Norman Paech and two German parliamentarians from the far-left Left Party, Annette Groth and Inge Höger, have filed criminal complaints for “numerous potential offences, including war crimes against individuals and command responsibility … as well as false imprisonment.”
At 5:10 a.m. on May 31, the complaint reads, Höger, Groth and Paech heard from the captain of the Mavi Marmara via the ship’s loudspeaker that the Israeli soldiers who had boarded the ship as part of the commando operation were taking over control of the ship. An hour later, Israeli soldiers ordered the Germans on deck, where their backpacks and other belongings were searched. Their hands were temporarily bound.
It wasn’t until 9:10 p.m. that parliamentarian Annette Groth was given the possibility of contacting the German Embassy. At 2 a.m. on June 1, the Germans were brought to the airport in a prisoner transport vehicle for their flight back home.
According to international criminal law expert Florian Jessberger of Berlin’s Humboldt University, “there is cause to believe that false imprisonment was perpetrated as understood by German law.” He says that German criminal law would have jurisdiction “irrespective of the fact that the act was perpetrated on the high seas.”
As the Freedom Flotilla sails towards Gaza, the Israeli propaganda machine is working at full bore. In its frenzied effort, message discipline seems to have gone out of the window.
10,000 tons of supplies being carried in the nine-ship flotilla are, the Israelis suggest, superfluous to Gaza’s needs when Israel itself is delivering 15,000 tons a week. Still, if the human rights activists insist on completing their mission, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it would be more “efficient” if the flotilla, instead of docking at Gaza City, docks at an Israeli port where everything can be transferred to Israeli trucks. Then everyone can say a prayer as they wait to see how much gets confiscated at the land crossing into Gaza. Why take a direct route when you can take a longer less certain indirect route?
Not surprisingly, The Freedom Flotilla organizers have declined Israel’s “offer.” Israel’s police and prisons service are now on standby, ready to deal with the potential arrest of hundreds of activists in the event that the Netanyahu government decides to block the flotilla’s passage. I imagine some kind of internment camp may need to be set up for holding and interrogating the peaceful activists prior to their deportation.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials are citing a Financial Times report that the 200 to 300 smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza “have become so efficient that shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods.”
In effect, the Israelis seem to be saying that the combination of supplies that it delivers, along with those coming through tunnels, means that for all practical purposes Gaza is no longer under siege.
The siege isn’t working — don’t break the siege!
While Israeli officials selectively cite reporting by the Financial Times, here is part of the same report which makes it clear that under siege, Gaza’s economy has effectively been crippled — in spite of the availability of goods coming through the tunnels.
“Everything I demand, I can get,” says Abu Amar al-Kahlout, who sells household goods out of a warehouse big enough to accommodate a passenger jet.
However, Mr al-Kahlout regards his suppliers in Rafah with distaste. “The tunnel business is not real business. They [the tunnel operators] are not respectable: if they were able to cut off your skin and sell it, they would do so,” he says.
His criticism is echoed by other business leaders in Gaza, who insist that the smugglers are creating a false sense of economic improvement while damaging the territory’s battered private sector.
They concede that the tunnels are providing essential goods, yet the smugglers are also bringing in precisely the simple consumer items that could be manufactured in Gaza, especially if sanctions were eased.
“We are just replacing legitimate businessmen with illegitimate businessmen” says Amr Hammad, a Gaza-based entrepreneur and deputy head of the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Flush with cash, the tunnel operators will soon “govern the whole economy of the Gaza Strip”, Mr Hammad predicts.
For most Gazans, the period since the end of Israel’s three-week offensive in January last year has brought little improvement. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the number of “abject poor”, who depend on food aid, trebled to 300,000 – or one in five of all Gazans – in 2009.
One western official says the tunnels act like a “humanitarian safety valve”, but cautions that they offer no solution to economic decline. As Mr Hammad says: “An economy cannot just depend on tunnels.”
Over 60 percent of Gaza households are food insecure as a result of the ongoing blockade Israel imposed on the coastal enclave, leading to a collapse of its formal economy, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said Tuesday.
AIDA, which represents over 80 NGOs, called on Israel for “full and unfettered access into and out of the Gaza Strip for materials and exports necessary for the revival of the agriculture and fishing sectors.”
As Gaza’s population becomes increasingly dependent on aid, the organizations urged Israel to implement immediate measures which include the entry of agricultural input materials such as plastic irrigation piping, quality seeds/seedlings and veterinary drugs into Gaza “needed to jumpstart the agricultural sector and allow the export of produce” and the lifting of access restrictions on farming and fishing areas.
In the name of “security” — the catchall phrase used so often to justify brutality — through its siege on Gaza, Israel has engaged in a systematic campaign not merely to deprive a society of its physical needs but in order corrode, undermine and ultimately destroy the society itself.
Israel has vandalized Gaza in every possible way in a calculated effort to try and drive this society rip itself apart — to disarm Hamas by making Gaza implode. Gestures of solidarity and support for the people of Gaza from the Freedom Flotilla and elsewhere around the world are a way of saying that we can speak out even while our governments remain silent.
To hear it from the Israeli press you’d think that the British government can now make changes to the law simply by having the prime minister write an op-ed.
Last December an arrest warrant was issued for former Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, when she was expected to arrive in Britain. According to Haaretz she no longer needs to fear getting hand-cuffed for alleged war crimes — at least not on trips to the UK:
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Thursday plans to stop politically-motivated campaign groups from securing arrest warrants for visiting foreign officials. In a March 3 editorial in the Daily Telegraph, Brown wrote, “Britain will continue to take action to prosecute or extradite suspected war criminals – regardless of their status or power… But the process by which we take action must guarantee the best results. The only question for me is whether our purpose is best served by a process where an arrest warrant for the gravest crimes can be issued on the slightest of evidence.”
Under the current system, British magistrates are obliged to consider an arrest warrant case presented by any individual. Gordon Brown said he will instead propose that only one government department, the Crown Prosecution Service, evaluate the merits of any case brought under international law.
This move follows an uproar last December when Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to London because a pro-Palestinian group secured an arrest warrant for alleged crimes committed in Gaza. A statement from Livni’s office praised the new changes proposed by Brown and said that “the British legal system has been abused by cynical elements in the United Kingdom.”
From London The Times presents a very different story:
Britain risks a showdown with Israel today when the Government signals it is in no hurry to ease the threat of arrest for visiting politicians and generals.
Ministers will announce a consultation on the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which private citizens can secure arrest warrants for offences such as war crimes committed abroad.
The Government had promised swift action when the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to London last year after a magistrate issued a warrant for her arrest for alleged war crimes in Gaza when she was Foreign Minister.
The issue caused embarrassment for the Government, which promised to remedy the matter quickly. Today’s announcement, however, means that the issue will not be resolved until well after the election, expected in May. When The Times reported last month that a Cabinet split could delay the issue could be delayed for months, Ms Livni threatened to travel to Britain and “take the bullet” as the only way of shaming the Government into action.
After the disclosure that agents suspected of acting for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, used fake British passports to enter Dubai and kill a Hamas commander, however, the balance of diplomatic power has shifted.
The delay is a victory for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who has argued that the legal point at stake is too important to rush.
Since the British government just voted in support of a UN General Assembly resolution calling on Israel to fully investigate allegations of war crimes committed during its war on Gaza, maybe they should quietly tell the Israelis that the proposed changes on universal jurisdiction aren’t going to happen if Israel keeps running away from the Goldstone report.
The National reports:
Two unrelated diplomatic upsets have underlined growing impatience with the behaviour of the Israeli government among western countries that are traditionally supportive.
Backing from the European Union and Australia in the United Nations to sustain the issue of Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza more than a year ago has coincided with controversy over Israel’s apparent use of western passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas official, in Dubai.
Support for an Arab resolution last Friday at the UN – most EU countries voted in favour while others and Australia abstained – gave Israel and the Palestinians five more months to report back on progress in their respective investigations of war crimes alleged in a report by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge.
For those of us who view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being an issue of injustice, there’s plenty of reason to believe no resolution is in sight simply because justice is one of the weakest among the principles governing world affairs. To this extent, Israeli leaders can feel confident in their sense of impunity.
But there is another line Israel crosses at its peril: where its actions conflict with the commercial interests of its allies. Israel can be a moral liability but it cannot be a financial liability.
US taxpayers have every reason to feel that Israel, as the largest single recipient of US foreign aid, is already a massive financial liability. Even so, since most of those tax dollars get plowed straight back into the US defense industry, Washington is unlikely to become more attentive to the concerns of ordinary American citizens than it is to the interests of its corporate sponsors.
Nevertheless, there is now reason to think that with the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai, Israel crossed a line that strains the limits of Western tolerance. Western governments would have paid scant attention to this event were it not for one egregious error by Mossad: its flagrant disregard for the integrity of foreign passports.
For many international travelers from Western countries, a passport might seem like nothing more than an obligatory document of no extraordinary value, yet in many ways these carefully bound and embossed permits are the lubricants of globalization. Swift passage through immigration control is one of the things that keeps the wheels of business turning smoothly.
But anyone traveling to the Middle East on an EU or Australian passport will now face a new level of scrutiny from immigration officers intent on blocking the passage of Israeli assassins.
Dubai’s police chief Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim announced on Monday that any travelers suspected of being Israeli, even if they hold passports from another country, will now be barred from entry into the UAE.
Asharq Al-Awsat reports that any foreign traveler visiting Lebanon who has a Jewish name will now be placed under surveillance.
Major General Wafiq Jizzini, director general of the Lebanese Public Security, said: “When someone comes to Lebanon on a foreign passport and the name of his family indicates that he is of Jewish origin, the border center sends the information to the central information office at the General Directorate of the Public Security. Afterward, the directorate observes this person who would have already registered his address in Lebanon. Both the visiting person and the one who receives him at the airport are observed.”
Israeli leaders such as Israel’s minister of industry, trade and labor, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who still regard the Dubai murder as a victory for Israel, have further reason to question that conclusion as fallout from the operation has now reached the United Nations General Assembly.
On Friday, the only countries willing to side with Israel in opposing a resolution that makes a renewed call for the investigation of war crimes committed during Israel’s war on Gaza, were the United States, Canada, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, and Macedonia.
Australian government sources informed the Sydney Morning Herald that there was a direct connection between the UN vote and the Dubai affair:
Britain, France and Germany have all recently expressed anger at Israel after their passports were caught up in the Dubai plot.
One Department of Foreign Affairs source told the Herald there was no doubt the decision to abstain was intended as a sign to Israel not to take Australian support for granted.
“A number of things made it easier for us to switch our vote,” the source said.
“Firstly, the Americans helped the Palestinians to soften the wording of this resolution compared to the last one. Secondly, a number of other countries had indicated that they were toughening their own positions on Goldstone. But there is no question that the debacle surrounding our passports being used in Dubai helped to make up the government’s mind to abstain. The final decision was taken late on Friday, Australian time, just a few hours before the vote.
“Our pattern in the past has been to vote with the US when it comes to Israel, to show as much support for Israel as possible.
“We were also aware that the UK’s decision to vote in favour of the resolution was influenced by the fact that so many of their citizens had been caught up in the Dubai assassination.”
Israelis would do well to remember that even among their most effusive supporters, an allegiance to business invariably trumps all others.
The Women’s Coalition for Peace sent a letter on Wednesday to Israel’s former Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, calling on her to cooperate with international investigations into her role in the assault on Gaza last winter, after a British court issued an warrant for her arrest on Monday.
The Israeli organization wrote in the letter, which was attached to a translated copy of the Goldstone report on alleged war crimes in Gaza, “We are convinced that if you refer to the report you will understand why British citizens and organizations have turned to the courts with a request to issue a warrant for your arrest.”
The letter added that the Goldstone report directly refers to remarks by senior political figures in Israel which encouraged indiscriminate attacks on civilians, in contradiction of international law.
It is in this context that Livni was quoted as saying, on 13 January 2009, “We have proven to Hamas that the equation has been altered. Israel is a state that, when its citizens are shot at, will respond insanely. And that’s a good thing.” [continued...]
Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni is not the only one, or even one of a select few, who face the near-certainty of arrest should they make the mistake of visiting England.
According to former Foreign Ministry legal adviser
Allan Baker, two of every three ministers in the cabinet would also likely be arrested and detained in a British jail if they did the same.
Britain is one of several west European countries that have passed laws granting it international jurisdiction – that is, the right to try anyone suspected of violating various provisions of international law, no matter where the alleged crimes were committed or the citizenship of the suspect.
Israel first tasted the sting of international jurisdiction in 2001, when a warrant was issued in Belgium for the arrest of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former army Chief-of-Staff Raphael Eitan and former head of IDF Northern Command, Amos Yaron, for their alleged roles in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut by Christian militiamen. The charges were eventually dropped, and Belgium changed its law to make it more difficult to apply universal jurisdiction.
But the threat remains in other countries. In 2005, former head of IDF Southern Command Doron Almog narrowly escaped arrest when he was advised to remain on board the plane that had brought him to London and immediately return to Israel. [continued...]
Four American Jewish groups are urging the US Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision that could lead to Israeli officials being slammed with civil lawsuits in the United States.
Coinciding with a British judge’s decision to sign an arrest warrant for Kadima leader Tzipi Livni for alleged “war crimes” during Operation Cast Lead, the brief seeks to overturn a Fourth Circuit decision to strip foreign government officials from immunity in American civil lawsuits.
Written by Washington attorney Nathan Lewin on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Agudath Israel of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the “friend of court” brief warns against a “torrent of unfounded lawsuits against Israeli government officials” in the absence of absolute immunity. [continued...]
It is not at all surprising that the Israeli government is outraged at the attempt – initially successful – to obtain an arrest warrant in Britain against their former foreign minister Tzipi Livni. But their characterisation of it as a “diplomatic offence” is wide of the mark. Those who come to Britain are subject to its laws.
It is necessary to step back from the particular case and look at the broader picture. War crimes and crimes against humanity are international crimes transcending national boundaries. Universal jurisdiction to put those accused of them on trial is a logical development of that recognition. Such crimes are unlikely to be redressed in the country where the perpetrators hold political power. If they are not, they can only be adjudicated in courts of another state, or in an international court or tribunal.
Since the Second World War there has been a steady expansion of legal mechanisms designed to ensure that there is no hiding place for the perpetrators of international crimes. Complying with UN treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, many countries, including the UK, give their courts jurisdiction to try specific crimes committed outside their own territory. [continued...]
Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s military superiors repeatedly ignored or rebuffed his efforts to open criminal prosecutions of soldiers he claimed had confessed to “war crimes” during psychiatric counseling, according to investigative reports circulated among federal law enforcement officials.
On Nov. 4, the day after his last attempt to raise the issue, he took extra target practice at Stan’s shooting range in nearby Florence, Texas and then closed a safe deposit box he had at a Bank of America branch in Killeen, according to the reports. A bank employee told investigators Hasan appeared nervous and said, “You’ll never see me again.”
Diane Wagner, Bank of America’s senior vice president of media relations, said that her company does not “comment or discuss customer relationships” but is “cooperating fully with law enforcement officials.”
Investigators believe Hasan’s frustration over the failure of the Army to pursue what he regarded as criminal acts by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may have helped to trigger the shootings. [continued...]
Editor’s Comment — At this point, were it not for one fact, the verdict in the court of public opinion would already be in: Hasan snapped. Had he been a non-Muslim psychiatrist and expressed the same concerns, the assumption that would now widely be made would be that under the stress of feeling like his concerns were being ignored, he became unhinged. But instead, the single most important fact in this case remains in many people’s minds, the fact that Hasan was a Muslim.
Last April, two Marines at Camp Lejeune predicted to a psychiatrist that some Marine back from war was going to “lose it.” Concerned, the psychiatrist asked what that meant. One of the Marines responded, “One of these guys is liable to come back with a loaded weapon and open fire.”
They weren’t talking about Marines suffering from a tangle of mental and religious angst, like news reports suggest haunted the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The risk they reported at Camp Lejeune was broader and systemic. Upon returning home, troops suffering mental health problems were getting dumped into an overwhelmed healthcare system that responded ineptly to their crises, the men reported, and they also faced harassment from Marine Corps superiors ignorant of the severity of their problems and disdainful of those who sought psychiatric help.
As Dr. Kernan Manion investigated the two Marines’ claims about conditions at the North Carolina military base, the largest Marine base on the East Coast, he found they were true. Manion, a psychiatrist hired last January to treat Marines coming home from war with acute mental problems, warned his superiors of looming trouble at Camp Lejeune in a series of increasingly urgent memos.
But instead of being praised for preventing what might have been another Fort Hood massacre, Manion was fired by the contractor that hired him, NiteLines Kuhana LLC. A spokeswoman for the firm says it let Manion go at the Navy’s behest. The Navy declined to comment on this story. [continued...]