Accountability is needed to ensure justice for victims and prevent future violations
A number of initiatives are ongoing to pursue accountability for alleged violations of international law during the escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel in July and August 2014. Meaningful accountability for alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law is key to ending the repeated cycle of hostilities and violations, following three escalations in six years in Gaza and increasing violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Accountability is needed both to ensure justice for victims of violations, and to prevent future violations.
Palestinian human rights organisations in Gaza (Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights) have provided legal assistance to individuals in Gaza to seek accountability and redress in Israel. PCHR and Al Mezan have conducted in-depth monitoring of alleged violations of international law during the hostilities. They have documented 378 case files and submitted 236 complaints to the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) requesting that criminal investigations be opened into these incidents.
PCHR and Al Mezan have also submitted to the Israeli Ministry of Defense notifications of intention to file civil compensation claims for loss of life and property on behalf of 1,349 victims. This initial step preserves the right of victims to file compensation claims in an Israeli court within two years of the date of the incident.
According to updates produced by the Israeli MAG, a General Staff Mechanism for Fact-Finding Assessments (the FFA Mechanism) has been established to examine “exceptional incidents” that occurred during the military operation in Gaza in 2014. In December 2014, the MAG stated that allegations relating to approximately 100 incidents had been referred for assessment to the FFA Mechanism, which had finalized 50 of them and sent them to he MAG for a decision. Of these cases, the MAG decided to open criminal investigations into five cases, to close nine, and to refer 11 cases back to the FFA Mechanism for further examination.
To date, no information is available indicating that investigations are being conducted by the Palestinian authorities regarding alleged violations by Palestinian armed groups.
At an international level, an independent commission of inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The commission is mandated to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the oPt, particularly in the Gaza Strip, in the context of military operations conducted after 13 June 2014; to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and to identify those responsible; and to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults. It is due to report to the Human Rights Council during its 28th session in March 2015.
Additionally, an internal and independent UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry into specific incidents in the Gaza Strip between 8 July and 26 August 2014 was established by the UN Secretary-General on 10 November 2014. This Board of Inquiry is reviewing and investigating a number of specific incidents in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was inflicted on, UN premises. It is also reviewing and investigating incidents in which weapons were found to be present on UN premises.
On 1 January 2015, the State of Palestine accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over alleged crimes “committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014”, and on 2 January 2015, it lodged an instrument of accession to the Rome Statute of the International Court. Whilst it is for the ICC to decide on its jurisdiction and the admissibility and merit of any case, the Court’s involvement could potentially prompt improvements in domestic accountability mechanisms.
* This section was submitted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as lead of the Protection Cluster. The piece originally appeared in OCHA’s January 2015 Humanitarian Bulletin.