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UN names Gaza war-crimes panel

Published time: August 12, 2014 14:14
Edited time: August 12, 2014 18:08
Smoke raises over Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city on August 10, 2014. (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

Smoke raises over Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city on August 10, 2014. (AFP Photo / Mahmud Hams)

The United Nations announced the names of three experts to investigate possible war crimes committed by both Israelis and Palestinians during the two-month conflict in the Gaza Strip, the world body has announced.

The team will look at “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law … in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014” and present a report in March 2015, according to a statement by the UN.

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William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, has been selected to lead the panel, Reuters reported, while Doudou Diène, a Senegalese lawyer who has previously worked with the UN on a number of past cases, was also tapped to join the panel.

A boy stands amid the ruins of buildings that witnesses say were destroyed by Israeli air strikes in the Shejaia neighbourhood in Gaza City August 12, 2014. (Reuters / Siegfried Modola)
British-Lebanese human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin, in the spotlight recently due to her engagement to actor George Clooney, was one of three individuals nominated to investigate human rights violations in Gaza, but declined the invitation.

“I was contacted by the UN about this for the first time this morning,” Alamuddin said in a statement. “I am honored to have received the offer, but given existing commitments — including eight ongoing cases — unfortunately could not accept this role. I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavors.”

Israeli officials have criticized the members on the UN panel, however, saying they are biased in favor of the Palestinians.

The choice of William Schabas to lead the investigation is complicated, Israel says, due to comments he has made about Israeli officials in the past. Last year, at a conference in New York, Schabas said: “My favorite would be Netanyahu within the dock of the International Criminal Court.”

Concerning Alamuddin, Haaretz, the Israeli daily, suggested the lawyer’s background may open her to charges of bias: “In 1982, when she was 4, her family fled Beirut in a US ship while Israel was bombarding the city.”

The third member of the panel is Doudou Diène, an expert on human rights from Senegal who was the UN special envoy on racial discrimination from 2011-14.

Israel has come under strong condemnation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has accused Israel of violating international law by firing upon UN safe sites, though Israel has said the UN is biased against the country.

A man looks up as he sits in a tent amid the ruins of his home that he says was destroyed by Israeli air strikes in the Shejaia neighbourhood in Gaza City August 12, 2014. (Reuters / Siegfried Modola)

Coming under Israeli aerial strikes, Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and seek protection in shelters operated by the United Nations – dozens of UN-operated schools converted for the purpose.

However, the UN has also singled out Hamas for violating international law, specifically by launching rockets at Israel.

The panel is to submit its report to the UNHRC in Geneva in March 2015. Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella from Gabon, the current president of the council, explained its mandate in a statement: “To investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June, 2014.”

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators are currently sitting down to peace talks after a recent ceasefire agreement came into effect. The two-month-long conflict has seen nearly 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis killed.

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