Home > Commentary > Goldstone Report on Gaza War Crimes Presented to the Human Rights Council

Goldstone Report on Gaza War Crimes Presented to the Human Rights Council

Yesterday, international jurist Richard Goldstone presented a report to the Human Rights Council on breaches of international humanitarian law in the Gaza conflict which had found strong evidence of  violations during Israel’s military assault that lasted from December 2008 to January 2009, and claimed more than 1400 lives. The report concluded that Israel and Hamas were responsible for numerous serious violations of the laws of war, some amounting to war crimes, and called on both parties to conduct impartial investigations to determine who was responsible for ordering or carrying out these violations within six months. The 47-member Council council has already condemned Israel in a statement last January and is expected to take a hard line this week.  It is further expected that the report will be forwarded to the UN Security Council with a recommendation that war crimes trials be considered.


The report, which the Mission released at the UN headquarters on September 15 finds strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli forces. The main recommendation of the Mission is for the Security Council to require Israel, in the spirit of complementarity,  to report within six months on prosecutions it carries. If the relevant authorities fail in this task, the Council should refer the matter to the prosecutor of the ICC. Interestingly, Haaretz this morning reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to present a proposal Thursday to open an investigative commission to probe the findings of the Goldstone Commission report on Gaza. This is of course a minimum expectation, but the previous inquiry into the Sabra and Shatila massacre suggests it might not be done entirely in bad faith.

Justice Goldstone (a judge of Jewish descent if that indeed is in any way relevant) writes that the evidence, collected over several visits to Gaza, indicates that civilian targets were deliberately hit, a violation of the rules of war.  The report describes the attacks as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population”. The Goldstone findings are wholly consistent with those of Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and many other human rights organizations. The report also condemns attacks from Palestinian territory in the form of unguided missiles that fell on Israeli settlements shortly before Israel launched its campaign. It says that besides the three Israeli civilians and one soldier killed in these attacks, trauma was spread among the entire population as rockets fell among them.

Humanitarian lawyers and academics will be better prepared than yours truly to comment on the substance of the 452-page report. However, opposition to the report, its conclusions and its likely future direction are predictable.  Top officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have stated that the report is full of lies and distortions which demand an examination of how Goldstone arrived at his conclusions. The US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Michael Posner, has described it as “deeply flawed.” Depresingly, even the Obama administration’s envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, has also called the “mandate” of the UN Fact Finding Mission on Gaza as “unacceptable. ….We have long expressed our very serious concern with the mandate that was given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining the Council, which we viewed as unbalanced, one-sided and basically unacceptable,” she told reporters at the UN after its release.

The Irish Times, among others, reports that US officials fear that a war crimes process targeting the very leaders supposed to craft a peace process will mean the end of that process. As they note, this is the Achilles’ heel of war crimes courts – the argument that in some cases the search for justice can actually hinder the search for peace. Justice Goldstone, with years of experience most notably in the ICTY, rejects this position. He told the council that justice is the cement on which peace is built: “The ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence.” In truth, this position is simplistic and demonstrably false in view of the numerous historical examples of states transitioning to peace without trials of any sort. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that any potential trials would derail the peace process in the unlikely event of their being realised. Land and security are what have made the peace process intractable. In view of problems of this magnitude, the slight possibility of prosecutions for crimes Israel will never extradite for and the US will never support is in fact a side issue.  


 Postscript: On Tuesday, a UK court deferred until further notice an appeal by local pro-Palestinian groups to issue an arrest warrant against Barak for his conduct as Defense Minister during Cast Lead.

  1. Michael Kearney
    October 1, 2009 at 11:30 am

    “Simplistic and demonstrably false”! A painfully naive post here. In the first instance, this Peace Process of which you speak, where is it?

    There simply is no peace process. Instead there is a process whereby the Israeli leaders consolidate their control over the West Bank and rather than bombing towns like Ramallah or Heborn to pieces as happened in Gaza, they allow the (unelected) Palestinian Authority space to be the lords over the Palestinan population in the main urban areas, thus saving them the trouble of dealing with the ocupaied people, and allowing the PA to act like tin pot dictators and engage in fancy business deals.

    Really, a couple of meetings does not make a peace process, and removing international human rights standards from the basis of a peace process will ensure that here will never be jstice, and any peace will be temporary before a return to violence. This has all happened before duing the Oslo process.

    Allowing Israeli leaders to commit war crimes, then having the report’s like Goldstone’s confirm that such war crimes happened, only to dismiss it out of hand as a side issue without any demonstrable understanding of the scale of the oppression of the Palestinians is a damning indictment of what is presented as a worthwhile commentary on human rights.

  2. pmcauliffe
    October 1, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I’d read the post again Michael, I don’t think you undersood the point. I remain fully conscious (insofar as pople siting in front of PC creens in Ieland can be) of the scale of the oppression of the Palestinians. I also agree with you that at present that there more or less no genuine peace process. As you point out, there is a process of delay and obfuscation that allows Tel Aviv to secure greater security for the proliferating and illegal settlements.

    The point I was making is that in any putative peace process (and Netanyahu will come under increasing- albeit possiby insufficient- pressure) human rights issues such as the rght to land, refugees, the settlements, water etc will actually be far further up the agenda than war crimes. Accounability for these crimes will be horse-traded by the Palstinians and major powers for concesions at the first opportunity. This is regrettable, of course, but it’s the way things will work.

    Thi brings me back to he point you found so objectionable, where I said Goldstone’s position that “The ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence” i demonstrably false. Lack of criminal justice has rarely imperilled any peace process in the middle-east or elsewhere. The Lebanese civil war, the Israel-Egyptian peace process, agreements between Isael and Jordan etc etc were not reiant on jutice for war crimes. It is th way of th world, alas.

  1. October 29, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: