The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) calls for the urgent establishment of an independent international investigative body to address the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip. Available evidence indicates war crimes are being committed in the current conflict, including: the direct targeting of civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, and a failure to take all feasible precautions in attack and in the choice of methods and means of warfare. Customary international law clearly requires that these suspected war crimes be investigated and that, if appropriate, individual suspects must be prosecuted.
The urgent need for investigations is highlighted by the escalation in the conflict in the past 48 hours, and the dramatic increase in death and injury amongst the civilian population. Since 14 November, 105 Palestinians have been killed. Our fieldworkers have confirmed that at least 70 of the casualties were civilians, of whom 23 children and 12 women. 805 people have been injured in total; almost all of them (786) are civilians. Amongst those injured are 223 children and 130 women. Due to the chaotic nature of the situation, comprehensive information is unattainable at this time, and these casualty figures are expected to rise.
It is imperative that suspected violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and international human rights law be investigated by an independent and impartial international body of experts. This is essential in order to: secure victims legitimate and internationally protected right to a remedy; and to ensure accountability and restore the rule of law. For too long, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory has been characterized by systematic violations of international law, and impunity for those violations. It is innocent civilians who have been forced to pay the horrific price.
PCHR notes that the reality of the current situation precludes effective investigation. This conclusion is reinforced by reference to all parties’ comprehensive failure to conduct genuine and effective investigation into suspected widespread, and systematic, violations of international law committed in the context of Israel's last major offensive on the Gaza Strip (Operation Cast Lead, 27 December 2008 - 18 January 2009), as confirmed by a UN Committee of Experts mandated to monitor the investigations. It is noted that the only concrete results of these procedures were a 7 month sentence for the theft of a credit card, and two 3 month suspended sentences for the use of a Palestinian child as a human shield.
Any investigation must be independent and impartial, and composed of international experts in international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international criminal law, as well as military experts. It is essential that this body have the mandate to recommend international criminal prosecutions as appropriate.
PCHR reminds that the Geneva Conventions places all States under an obligation to respect, and ensure respect, for international humanitarian law in all circumstances, and to investigate and prosecute all suspected violations of international humanitarian law, regardless of the nationality of the suspect, or the place of commission of the crime.
The international community must intervene in order to restore the rule of law, and to take active steps to protect the civilian population, the so-called 'protected persons' of international law.