4 October 2006, UN News Center - Criticizing violations of human rights and humanitarian law by both Israel and Hizbollah in the recent 34-day conflict in Lebanon, four independent United Nations rights experts today called for further investigations to determine whether war crimes were committed.
Presenting a report to the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the four also highlighted the disastrous effects of around one million cluster bomblets dropped by Israel, saying they have already killed 14 people since the fighting ended in August and urging the international community to ban such weapons.
"Serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel... In many instances, Israel failed to distinguish between military and civilian objectives... The mission also calls for further investigations to be undertaken to evaluate whether war crimes were committed by Israel," the four said in a joint statement.
"The experts also concluded that Hizbollah violated humanitarian law in many instances by targeting civilian populations and by disregarding the principle of distinction... The UN Human Rights Council should ensure a thorough investigation of whether Hizbollah's attacks on heavily populated civilian areas in northern Israel amounted to war crimes."
Highlighting the widespread use of cluster munitions, the report says these have "very seriously impeded the return of civilians to many areas in southern Lebanon," and repeats calls on Israel to urgently provide full details of their use to assist in the destruction of unexploded ordnance and minimize civilian casualties.
"The international community should take urgent action to ban the use of cluster munitions under international law," recommends the report, which was based on a visit last month to Israel and Lebanon.
It also highlights the continuing suffering of the victims of the conflict, stressing the "urgent need" to address this, including the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees. Around one million Lebanese were forced to leave their homes while 300,000 Israelis fled to the south for safety during the fighting.
The four independent experts were Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of IDPs; and Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Also related to the month-long conflict in Lebanon, Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food presented a report on his trip to Lebanon, in which he said a certain number of massacres of civilians had taken place, while the destruction of crops in southern Lebanon represented a violation of humanitarian law.
In response, Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon pointed out that as the report from the four Special Rapporteurs described, the conflict resulted from an unprovoked attack emanating from Lebanon and the missiles were fired from its soil. But he said it was troubling that no reference was made to the responsibility of Lebanon for acts of hostility prepared and perpetrated within its territory.
Israel was not aware of any Lebanese investigation into violations of the law of armed conflict by Hizbollah. He also pointed out that all Israeli forces had now completed their withdrawal from Lebanon as stipulated by Security Council resolution 1701 that ended the conflict.
Also speaking in response was Ghassan Mounkheiber, a Member of the Lebanese Parliament, and Gebran Soufan, another Lebanese representative.
Mr. Mounkheiber expressed his country's disappointment at the report by the four Special Rapporteurs, saying that while it rightly found Israel, in many of its sections, guilty of gross violations of the principles of distinction, proportionality and others, it also failed to address many more violations of international law.
Mr. Soufan, speaking specifically of Mr. Ziegler's report, said it was clear and meticulous and listed the violations that amounted to war crimes committed by Israel. It also raised the future unemployment of farmers and others as part of the Israeli military legacy.
Representatives from almost 30 countries and regional groupings also made statements before the Council moved on to debate a report by Rudi Muhammad Rizki, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, which highlighted the need to strengthen international solidarity as a means of building a more just and equitable international order more conducive to human rights.
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