UN rights chief calls for end to ‘impunity’ after Israel attack on UN school News
UN rights chief calls for end to ‘impunity’ after Israel attack on UN school

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday urged the international community to end what she called a “climate of impunity” [press release] around the Israel-Palestine conflict. In light of the bombardment of a UN school [Reuters report] in Gaza on Wednesday, Pillay called for “real accountability considering the increasing evidence of war crimes and an ever-growing number of civilian casualties, including some 250 children.”

Six UN schools have now been hit, including another deadly strike on 24 July that also killed civilians. The shelling and bombing of UN schools which have resulted in the killing and maiming of frightened women and children and civilian men, including UN staff, seeking shelter from the conflict are horrific acts and may possibly amount to war crimes. If civilians cannot take refuge in UN schools, where can they be safe? They leave their homes to seek safety – and are then subjected to attack in the places they flee to. This is a grotesque situation.

Pillay underscored the need to adhere to to the recommendations of the Gaza Fact-Finding Mission [official materials], including the involvement of the International Criminal Court, as a means of deterring “future violations, by ending the longstanding impunity that has been such a feature of this situation.” While focusing on the circumstances of Palestinian non-combatants, Pillay also reiterated her condemnation of the tactics used by Palestinian groups, including locating military assets among civilians and the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, saying plainly that the “launching of indiscriminate attacks is a war crime.”

Pillay’s statement comes less than a week after the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] announced its intention to create an international commission of inquiry [press release] that will investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.The Gaza Fact-Finding Mission presented its finding to the UNHRC in September 2009, finding that both Israeli and Palestinian forces committed war crimes [JURIST reports] during Operation Cast Lead [JURIST news archive] in 2008. Israel called on Mission head Richard Goldstone to retract the report [JURIST report] in April 2011 following Goldstone’s statement that “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” JURIST contributor Laurie Blank questioned whether Goldstone’s statement was sufficient to undo the damage [JURIST op-ed] on the law of war, particularly encouraging those who use civilians as a strategic tool.