23 September 2010 — PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – PALESTINE LEGAL AID FUND
No one was safe,’ once Israeli soldiers began using live ammunition on board the Mavi Marmara, says an authoritative UN investigation team into the Israeli attacks on the Gaza aid flotilla.
Their report is now going to be considered by the 57-member UN Human Rights Council next week that has the chance to finally ensure that Israel is held accountable for committing what the UNFFM found to be serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law including war crimes of willful killing and torture.
The UNFFM found that Israeli military personnel used ‘incredible violence’ against civilians who the investigators describe as ‘persons genuinely committed to the spirit of humanitarianism’.
ENFORCEMENT IS ESSENTIAL – OTHERWISE ISRAEL WILL CONTINUE TO VIOLATE HUMAN RIGHTS WITH IMPUNITY
The British passengers who were on board the Gaza-bound aid flotilla have today welcomed the findings of a UN inquiry, which found a strong prima facie case of the commission of several war crimes.
British passengers urge the UK government and Human Rights Council members to refer these war crimes allegations to the International Criminal Court.
The experts interviewed 112 witnesses in addition to receiving written representations by lawyers. “All the passengers on board the ships comprising the flotilla who appeared before the Mission impressed the members as persons genuinely committed to the spirit of humanitarianism and imbued with a deep and genuine concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza,” the report found.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unlawful, stated the report, as is the blockade and as was the interception of the flotilla. These findings underscore the legal arguments put forward by lawyers who have been working with the passengers since 31st May and who played a critical role in supporting the work of the UNFFM, supported in part by the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund.
The Mission recommends that the perpetrators of the attacks should be brought to justice. The Mission has indicated that these breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention could give rise to individual criminal responsibility.
British passenger Laura Stuart a 51 year old housewife from London responded by saying, Let’s hope this report can have some effect that might make Israelis think that they may in future be held accountable for their actions.
Daniel Machover, partner at London law firm Hickman and Rose, advising 29 of the 33 British passengers, said: “It is essential that the British Government now stops sitting on the fence and comes out very clearly in support of the protection and enforcement of human rights, including of their own nationals, several of whom were subject to some serious human rights violations and war crimes. That means the Government must refer the war crimes cases to the ICC without delay and must demand in clear terms that the Israeli authorities return every single item of property unlawfully seized from the British passengers, failing which the Government will take diplomatic measures and provide state funding for the passengers to bring civil and criminal claims in Israel.”
Mary Nazzal-Batayneh, Chairperson of the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund said, “This is a huge first step, however, we all still have a lot of work to do to make sure that these cases are pursued in court, securing genuine sanctions for the perpetrators and civil and criminal remedies for the survivors. As we all know, Israel has ignored UN criticism in the past and will continue to do so unless we take action to hold them genuinely to account. The nature of the attacks on the flotilla, against international passengers, creates unique legal opportunities to do so.”
The passengers and the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund have launched a fundraising campaign in order to ensure that cases are launched to to make the UN’s findings enforceable in international courts.
For more information please contact:
Rifat Audeh, HRLAF, flotilla passenger (Amman) Tel: + 962 (0)7888 28 344
Rochelle Harris, HRLAF (London) Tel: +44(0)7785 116672, Rochelle@humanrightsfund.org
Daniel Machover, Hickman And Rose, Mobile: +44 (0) 7773 3410 96, DMachover@hickmanandrose.co.uk
Selma Dabbagh, Hickman and Rose, Tel: +44 20 770 25 331, Mobile: +44 (0) 793 227 5154, firstname.lastname@example.org
 The UN FFM interviewed 112 witnesses. Some of their accounts are available at www.humanrightsfund.org/hrlaf-news.html
ANNEX –KEY FINDINGS
The 56-page report forms a comprehensive indictment of Israeli actions, which includes these findings:
- The conduct of the Israeli military and other personnel towards the flotilla passengers was not only totally disproportionate to the occasion but demonstrated levels of totally unnecessary and incredible violence. It constituted “grave violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law”
- ‘Systematic humiliation and violent treatment of passengers’, and the ‘shocking’ and ‘gratuitous’ use of violence.
- No evidence that the passengers fired or had firearms (para 165)
- No effort was made to minimise injuries at certain stages of the operation and that the use of live fire was done in an extensive and arbitrary manner. “It is difficult not to conclude that, once the order to use live fire had been given, no one was safe,” the report states. “It seems a matter of pure chance that there were not more fatalities as a result.” (para 169)
- There was a “prevailing climate of fear of violence that had a dehumanizing effect on all those detained on board.” (para 178)
- Two passengers received wounds compatible with being shot at close range while lying on the ground (para 118)
- None of the four passengers who were killed in a separate incident – including a photographer – “posed any threat to the Israeli forces,” (para 120)
- Force used by the Israeli soldiers in intercepting the Challenger I, the Sfendoni and the Eleftheri Mesogios was unnecessary, disproportionate, excessive and inappropriate and amounted to violations of the right to physical integrity (para 173)
- The factual circumstances provide prima facie evidence that protected persons suffered violations of international humanitarian law including wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment and wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health within the terms of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions (para 182).
- Passengers were “jeered at and taunted by the people on the quay,” in a way that passengers found to be “unsettling and humiliating.” (para 185)
- Passengers were “beaten or physically abused for refusing to sign or for advising others not to sign,” papers at the airport.
- Passengers were subjected to a series of meticulous searches, including strip searches with a number describing the process as being “deliberately degrading and humiliating, accompanied by taunts, provocative and insulting language and physical abuse.” (para 189).
- The wife of one of the deceased passengers was treated with complete insensitivity to her bereavement (para 194)
- “Extreme and unprovoked” violence was perpetrated by uniformed Israeli personnel upon passengers at the airport, accounts of which were “so consistent and vivid as to be beyond question.” (para 202)
- Unarmed passengers were baton charged at the airport, “In the foray,” the report states, “around 30 passengers were beaten to the ground, kicked and punched in a sustained attack by soldiers.”
- A doctor clearly identified as such was kicked and punched (para 207)
- Israeli military and police personnel at the airport exhibited behaviour much of which “was surely criminal under domestic Israeli law.” (para 209)
- The wounded were handcuffed to their beds using standard metal handcuffs and that sometimes their feed was shackled when they were held in Israeli hospitals.
- The Israeli authorities confiscated a large amount of video and photographic footage and that this confiscation “represents a deliberate attempt by the Israeli authorities to suppress or destroy evidence, “ (paras 240-1)
- Withholding and sometimes destroying private property of passengers “represents both a violation of rights related to property ownership and to the freedom of expression,” (para 245)
- In prison, passengers were subjected to “sleep deprivation and denial of access to a lawyer,” (para 251)·
- Acts of torture were committed by Israeli officials against passengers during their period of detention in Israel (para 219)