[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] Friday called for an independent investigation [statement text] of possible war crimes and human rights violations in the ongoing conflict [BBC materials] between Israel and combatants in the Gaza Strip. Pillay made the comments at a special session [materials] of the UN Human Rights Council [official website], and reiterated her calls [JURIST report] for Israel to respect the bounds of international law regarding the protection of civilians [Fourth Geneva Convention text], even if the Gaza combatants do not:
Let me… underscore that while indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful, Israel's responsibility to fulfill its international obligations is completely independent from the compliance of Hamas with its own obligations under international law. States' obligations, particularly those related to the protection of civilian life and civilian objects, are not subject to reciprocity…
I also wish to stress that the three cardinal principles of international humanitarian law, namely proportionality, distinction, and precaution, fully apply in the context of this conflict, as they do in any other war situation. The first principle prohibits attacks that may be expected to cause such loss of civilian life or injury to civilians that would be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. The second principle imposes on belligerents the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks may only be directed against combatants or legitimate military objectives. The last norm binds parties to a conflict to take all feasible precautions to avoid, or at least minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.
Pillay praised a recent Supreme Court of Israel [official website] decision [NYT report] allowing some reporters into the Gaza Strip, but made the call for independent rights investigators [HRC materials] to also be allowed into the area in order to document abuses and hold perpetrations accountable:
Accountability must be ensured for violations of international law. As a first step, credible, independent, and transparent investigations must be carried out to identify violations and establish responsibilities. Equally crucial is upholding the right of victims to reparation. I remind this Council that violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked.
I stress the need to deploy human rights monitors in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory who can independently document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that may have been perpetrated. I also urge that Special Procedures mandate holders be granted unrestricted access to Gaza and the West Bank.
Pillay's comments come after the UN Security Council [official website] on Thursday passed a resolution [press release and text; UN News Centre report] calling for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International USA [advocacy website] criticized the US insufficiently responding to the Gaza crisis [press release; JURIST report] in a letter [text, PDF] sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official Profile]. Late last month, militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip fired more than 80 rockets and mortars into southern Israel [AFP report], hitting private residences, public buildings, offices, and other populated areas. The Israeli government responded by filing two letters of complaint [text; second letter text] with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and warned militants that they would pay a "heavy price" [AP report] if attacks continued. Both letters of complaint, sent by Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Gabriel Shalev, cited Article 51 [text] of the United Nations Charter, which provides that a Member-State may act in self-defense in the face of an armed attack until the UN Security Council has taken the steps necessary to maintain international peace and security.