Saturday, October 31, 2009

Law becomes racism with double standards

A series of recent reports and statements critical of Israel by respected individuals and institutions reminds us of a vital challenge to coherent national development and safeguarding the rule of law in the Middle East: why should anyone respect international law and orderly relations among nations if such standards of conduct are not equally applied to all?
Once or twice a week now we hear statements criticizing Israel’s behavior or exhorting it to respect international rules and norms. A few days ago Amnesty International issued a report about how Israeli control of water resources leaves the Palestinians in the occupied territories dangerously deficient in minimum amounts and quality of their water. A few days later United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to allow the reconstruction of Gaza to proceed, nearly a year after a massive Israeli military offensive crippled the area’s infrastructure and productive capacity.
He noted: “Ten months after hostilities ended in Gaza, we see no progress on reconstruction or the re-opening of borders. Families have not been able to rebuild their homes. Clinics and schools are still in ruins. I urge Israel to accept the UN reconstruction proposals as set forth, recognizing that the only true guarantee of peace is people’s well-being and security.”
These two examples of international pleas to Israel to adhere to international standards of law-abiding decency came just a few weeks after the report by the Richard Goldstone fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council found sufficient evidence to say that both Israel and Hamas seem to have engaged in war crimes and even crimes against humanity in their conduct of the war nearly a year ago.
The larger point of such recent developments pertains to the slow degradation and ultimate negation of the rule of law in guiding the behavior of states and individuals. If states, armed groups and individuals see that some states, like Israel, are merely criticized but not seriously pressured or sanctioned because of their consistently criminal behavior – such as building colonies and inflicting mass reprisals against whole civilian populations – they conclude that international law, human rights standards, UN resolutions, international conventions and other such noble instruments have no meaning, and can be safely ignored.
When legal standards are applied only to some people and not all people, they cross the line from law to racism.
The importance of the Goldstone Report was captured in Goldstone’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council, in which he stressed that pursuing justice for all is critical for ensuring accountability, which in turn is vital for ending impunity in the use of violence against civilians. Here are a few of his statements that I believe reflect the essence and importance of his mission, reflecting the core values that the UN system tries to represent and keep alive:

“We accepted [to undertake the fact-finding mission] with the conviction that pursuing justice is essential and that no state or armed group should be above the law. Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during any conflict will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice …
“The mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour-producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some 200 industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel. The mission looked closely and sets out in the report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the ‘Hamas infrastructure.’ If ‘infrastructure’ were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of International Humanitarian Law built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets. These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes …
“A word about accountability. It has been my experience in many regions of the world, including my own country, South Africa, that peace and reconciliation depend, to a great extent, upon public acknowledgement of what victims suffer. That applies no less in the Middle East. It is a pre-requisite to the beginning of the healing and meaningful peace process. The truth and accountability are also essential to prevent ascribing collective guilt to a people …
“A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long. The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence.”

Source: The Daily Star

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