By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
GENEVA, Switzerland – On the twenty-third of July, the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow, announced the appointment of three independent experts to an international fact-finding mission to “investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance.” The May thirty-first raid on the flotilla resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, including one with joint American citizenship, the injury of dozens of other activists, and the injury of several Israeli commandos.
The “independent international fact-finding mission” was established to implement a Human Rights Council Resolution, which was passed during an urgent debate on the Israeli raid on the second of June 2010. The Council deplored “the loss of life of innocent civilians” during the debate.
The Mission is expected to travel to Israel, Turkey, and Gaza in August to conduct their investigation, and will report their findings to the Council during their next session, which is scheduled to begin on the twelfth of September.
In announcing the appointment of the experts to the panel, Ambassador Phuangketkeow said: “The expertise, independence and impartiality of the members of the mission will be devoted to clarifying the events which took place that day and their legality. We call upon all parties to fully cooperate with the mission and hope that this mission will contribute to peace in the region and justice for the victims.”
While Israel has not officially responded to the Council’s request for cooperation with the mission, as expected, Israel did not respond favourably to the announcement of the mission’s formation. A senior Israeli official told AFP, on condition of anonymity, “This panel of experts is not intending to look for the truth but to satisfy the non-democratic countries which control the Human Rights Council, who have an automatic anti-Israeli majority.” This is a common criticism of the Council voiced by observers and non-governmental organizations.
The Jerusalem Post quotes the IDF Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi as saying, “My personal opinion is that more probes into the flotilla are out of line.”
The Israeli military recently completed its own internal investigation into the probe, finding that the killings of activists were justified, but admitting that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) made some mistakes in their preparation for the raid. In addition to the military investigation, Israel has set up a panel, the Tirkel Committee, to investigate the incident, and to decide whether the raid was in compliance with international law.
It has also been reported that Israel is seriously considering cooperating with the work of an international panel proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will include both Turkish and Israeli participation. Israel has reportedly been in consultations with the Secretary-General over the panel’s composition, and has stipulated that, in return for its cooperation, the panel should begin its work only after the Tirkel Committee completes its work, and that the panel’s findings should take precedence over all other international probes into the raid.
The Christian Science Monitor claims, “Beyond the flotilla affair, Israel wants to court the UN chief as a way of limiting the influence of the international body’s Human Rights council.” The Monitor quotes an Israeli government official as saying, “You have to distinguish between the two.” “The human rights council makes no pretense to be objective. It has a persistent and consistent anti-Israel obsession…. The same cannot be said of the secretary general. In Israel we hold him in the highest esteem.”
The three independent experts on the newly appointed Human Rights Council fact-minding mission are, Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Queen’s Counsel (Trinidad and Tobago), who served as a Judge of the International Criminal Court from 2003 to 2007; Sir Desmond de Silva, Queen’s Counsel (United Kingdom), who served as Chief Prosecutor of the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2005 at the level of an Under-Secretary General of the United Nations; and Mary Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia), who was a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from 2005 to 2008, and has been serving on the Gender Equality Task Force of the United Nations Development Programme since 2007.
For more information, please see:
The Christian Science Monitor – Israel Signals New Cooperation with UN Over Gaza Flotilla – 26 July 2010
AFP – Israel Slams UN Council’s Gaza Flotilla Probe – 25 July 2010
Jerusalem Post – Gaza Flotilla Probes are Out of Line – 25 July 2010
Al Arabiya News – UN Forum Names Team to Probe Israel Ship Raid – 23 July 2010
Arab News – UN Names Team to Probe Israel’s Ship Raid – 23 July 2010
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Press Release: United Nations Human Rights Council Panel to Investigate Israeli Raid on Gaza Flotilla Established – 23 July 2010