Rene — Israel-Lebanon: Groups Call for Action on `War Crimes'

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Israel-Lebanon: Groups Call for Action on `War Crimes’
Published on Saturday, July 14, 2007 by the Inter Press Service
by Brian D. Pellot
UNITED NATIONS – Allegations of unpunished war crimes and a general
lack of accountability still plague Israeli-Lebanese relations one year
after the Israel-Hezbollah war erupted, Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch charged in separate statements Thursday.
The conflict erupted last July when Hezbollah forces attacked several
villages in Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two
more who have yet to be accounted for.
Human Rights Watch says that of the estimated 1,125 dead, 4,399 injured
and one million displaced in Lebanon during the conflict, the majority
affected were civilians due to the Israel Defense Forces’ relentless
missile strikes, bombings and artillery attacks aimed at civilian areas.
After initially warning civilians to flee southern Lebanon, the Israeli
army proceeded to attack as if all had fled when in fact they had not,
HRW said.
`Clearly there was recklessness, and an even larger number of civilian
casualties could have resulted,’ Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty
International’s Middle East and North Africa program, told IPS.
About 160 Israelis were also killed, mostly soldiers. Regarding the two
who remain missing, Smart said: `There has been no information on them,
and they’ve been denied access to the International Committee of the
Red Cross.’
`Our statement serves as a reminder that these issues cannot go
unaddressed,’ he added.
`Both sides in this conflict violated the laws of war, but a full year
later, no one has been held accountable,’ Middle East Director Sarah
Leah Whitson said in the Human Rights Watch statement.
Accusations that Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces violated
international humanitarian law arise from several documented instances
of what Human Rights Watch considers to have been a systematic failure
to distinguish between civilians and combatants.
Israel attacked killed and injured civilians attempting to flee the
fighting and disrupted convoys of humanitarian food aid to those who
remained in southern Lebanon, HRW said.
At the same time, many of Hezbollah’s rockets hit civilian areas far
from any apparent military target, and `such attacks were at best
indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, at worst direct attacks
against civilians.’
`There were a lot of civilians killed on both sides. Attacks were
carried out that had a disproportionate impact on civilians,’ Smart
told IPS.
As a result of both sides’ use of cluster munitions, post-conflict
death and destruction has proven largely unavoidable.
The U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in South Lebanon has
identified 922 sites where unexploded cluster bomb remnants pose an
imminent threat. As of mid-June, 24 civilians and eight mine experts
have been killed, and another 210 people injured from unexploded
cluster munitions.
`Israel says that they have offered a certain amount of information
regarding [areas its forces targeted with cluster bombs], but people at
the Mine Action Coordination Center need detailed and coordinated
information,’ Smart told IPS.
Amnesty International also chastised international organizations,
national commissions and governments for failing to bring potentially
guilty parties to justice.
`The total lack of political will to hold to account those responsible
for the indiscriminate killing of civilians, more than one thousand of
whom lost their lives, is both a gross betrayal of the victims and a
recipe for possible further civilian bloodshed with impunity,’ Smart
Amnesty claims that concerned parties in Lebanon and Israel were
unwilling to investigate alleged violations, and that, `Partisan
politics and selectivity in bodies such as the U.N. Security
Council¦has effectively left the Lebanese, Israeli and other victims
without recourse to justice.’
It says that the international community has lacked the political will
to establish a comprehensive, impartial and independent inquiry to
investigate alleged war crimes.
`There has been no effective investigation since the outbreak of the
conflict,’ Smart told IPS. Amnesty asserts that the Israeli
investigation was limited to military strategy, the U.N. Human Rights
Council focused only on Israeli violations, and Lebanon failed to even
complete an official investigation.
`The international community needs to step in,’ Whitson said in the
Human Rights Watch statement, urging countries that are still arming
Israel and Hezbollah to stop doing so immediately.
`Those who commit war crimes should not go unpunished anywhere. States
have an obligation as part of an international community to ensure that
this doesn’t happen,’ Smart told IPS.
The United States is by far the leading supplier of weapons to Israel.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there were a total of
8.4 billion dollars worth of arms deliveries to Israel in the 1997-2004
period, with fully 7.1 billion dollars, or 84.5 percent, coming from a
single source: the U.S.
A major factor in this trend was the rise in U.S. Foreign Military
Financing – outright U.S. grants to Israel – which now totals about 2.3
billion dollars a year.
Human Rights Watch will release a series of three extensive reports in
September documenting alleged violations based on post-conflict field
investigations in Lebanon and Israel. These documents will likely
confirm Amnesty International’s numerous mid- and post-conflict reports
exposing such violations.
The 34-day war may have officially ended with a U.N.-brokered ceasefire
last August, but experts at both human rights groups believe that until
accountability issues are adequately addressed, a conclusive resolution
will remain out of reach.
Political instability prevails in Lebanon, where rebuilding efforts
since the ceasefire have been very slow. U.N. peacekeepers continue to
be the targets of terrorism in the south of the country while the
Lebanese army fights Islamic militants in the north.
In Israel, the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a
major source of tension, and Hezbollah forces remain across the border
near the north of the country.
`We’re looking for a proper impartial investigation to ensure that
those who committed crimes are punished,’ Smart said. `In any process
of bringing justice, we are looking for fair trial rights to be
guaranteed to everyone,’ he added.