Last week, Justice Richard Goldstone of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict and his colleagues relesaed their report on Israel’s war on Gaza during December 2008-January 2009. Justice Goldstone is a former judge of South Africa’s Constitutional Court (the country’s highest) and a former Chief Prosecutor of the International Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Other members of the mission included: Advocate Hina Jilani, one of Pakistan’s foremost human rights activists, a practicing lawyer at the Supreme Court of Pakistan and a former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, who was a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur in 2004; Professor Christine Chinkin who teaches International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was a member of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Beit Hanoun in 2008; and Colonel (Retd.) Desmond Travers of Ireland’s Defence Forces who is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.
Commenting on his appointment back in April 2009, the Los Angeles Times noted that the « Judge named to lead Gaza inquiry is known for fairness. » Yuval Shany, director of the Minerva Centre for Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as being « surprised by the appointment » and that « Richard Goldstone is a fair-minded jurist, and I don’t think anyone can say he’s hostile to Israel in any way. »
In an op-ed entitled « Justice in Gaza » in the New York Times last week, shortly after the report was released, Justice Goldstone wrote: « I accepted with hesitation my United Nations mandate to invesitgate alleged violations of the laws of war and international human rights during Israel’s three-week war in Gaza last winter. The issue is deeply charged and politically loaded. I accepted because the mandate of the mission was to look at all parties: Israel; Hamas, which controls Gaza; and other armed Palestinian groups. I accepted because my fellow commissioners are professionals committed to an objective, fact-based investigation. But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm. »
He insisted that: « Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law. Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. » And further emphasized that: « Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel. »
For the full report of the United Nations Human Rights Council Fact Finding Mission on Gaza see here.