Wednesday, July 19, 2006

War Crimes Accusations

It's about time a high-ranking official stepped up to call what's going on by its real name: war crimes. And that person is Canada's Louise Arbour, who I wish would end up being Canada's Prime Minister some day. As it is now though, serving as the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights gives her the opportunity to speak on behalf of not only Canadians but many people around the world and she had some sobering words for Israel and Hezbollah on Wednesday.

The United Nations’ top human rights official said Wednesday that the killing and maiming of civilians under attack in Lebanon, Israel and Gaza and the West Bank could constitute war crimes.

“The scale of killings in the region, and their predictability, could engage the personal criminal responsibility of those involved, particularly those in a position of command and control,” said Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights.
“International humanitarian law is clear on the supreme obligations to protect civilians during hostilities,’’ she said. That same obligation exists, she added, in international criminal law, which defines war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,” she said in a statement released by her Geneva office. “Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged innocent civilians is unjustifiable.”

The International Red Cross also stressed that proportionality must be considered by Israel and Hezbollah during its press briefing on Wednesday:

The civilian population is bearing extremely heavy consequences of the military action. The high number of civilian casualties and the extent of damage to essential public infrastructure raises serious questions regarding the respect of the principle of proportionality in the conduct of hostilities.

Note to the reader: Concerning the principle of proportionality, see articles 51 and 57 of the 1977 First additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions. Although some states are not signatory to the Protocol, including Israel, the principle of proportionality is of customary nature.

(The United States is not a signatory to the protocol either.)

So, while Israel and Hezbollah carry on their campaigns that target civilians and people like the US's John Bolton make inane comments like this: “I want somebody to address the problem how you get a cease-fire with a terrorist organization", regardless of the fact that Lebanon was living in peace before this war broke out which ought to have shown Bolton that a ceasefire definitely is possible, the possibility that Israel may face prosecution for war crimes ought not be ignored. Especially when it's coming from Louise Arbour.

The UN may have been unsuccessful in enforcing its dozens of resolutions against Israel over the years but the ICC is not the UN where the US can exercise its veto power to protect Israel and if Arbour pushes for a war crimes trial, she might just get one.

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