EU Member States must support the UN Gaza Report: Abstention, not an option!

By Michel Tubiana, EuroMed Rights President

Hiding behind a common abstention is no longer an option for the eight EU Member States that are members of the UN Human Rights Council. Today, the UN Commission of Inquiry, composed of independent experts, presents its report almost one year after the latest devastating war in Gaza in 2014. This vote may mark a turning point for the families seeking justice for the civilians killed during the conflict.

By supporting the conclusions of this report, the EU can prove that the principles of international law, which it champions around the globe, also apply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Commission was appointed to investigate all violations that occurred during the 2014 military operations in Gaza and the West Bank. The more than 200 page report found that Israel and Palestinian armed groups committed possible war crimes. “Impunity prevails across the board,” the report found, casting serious doubt on Israeli and Palestinian justice mechanisms. The document calls on both parties to break with their appalling track record in holding wrongdoers accountable.

But this isn’t news. These conclusions have been repeated time and again by Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs as well as by various UN reports. Yet to date, these conclusions have fallen on deaf ears in the EU.

While some EU officials argue that things are different this time around, claiming that new Israeli investigatory mechanisms have been established, we ought to ask what is really different this time? While the mechanisms have slightly changed from those that examined the 2009 Gaza conflict, the outcomes essentially remain the same. After the 2009 Gaza conflict, these mechanisms shockingly issued only three indictments for a war that killed almost 1,000 civilians. Ludicrously, the most severe of these indictments was dealt to a soldier for stealing a credit card. Today these so-called new mechanisms have so far issued only one indictment…for looting! Meanwhile, the investigations into one of the most shocking images of the war – the killing of the four boys on Gaza beach – was closed without prosecution.

The EU’s track record in fighting impunity in Israel and Palestine is inadequate. While the UN Commission of Inquiry has been accused of politicization, there are few cases in which the EU’s own double standard have been quite as clear. Although for many EU Member States the fight against impunity is a priority, disturbingly not a single EU Member State voted for the Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza Conflict to be established. Some Member States even went as far as to explicitly discourage Palestine from joining the International Criminal Court, arguing that this act would hinder peace. This stance contrasts sharply with the EU’s unwavering support for other commissions of inquiry and the ICC in other conflicts, such as Syria, Libya and Darfur. Despite the many voices arguing that such mechanisms would compromise peace in these countries, the EU simply chose to stand by its own principles and support justice.

One argument for not supporting the Commission of Inquiry is that its mandate is biased focussing exclusively on Israel. However, this position does not stand up to scrutiny as the Commission was tasked with investigating “all violations” and it also condemned violations committed by Palestinian armed groups. Indeed, hiding behind the report’s supposed bias to abstain or vote against a resolution supporting the report is simply a poor excuse.

For the families grieving the loss of their loved ones, this report offers a glimmer of hope that at least the international community will no longer tolerate impunity. But what is at stake today at the Council is not only justice but also the EU’s own credibility.  After all, the EU has repeatedly called for credible domestic investigations, but with no success. It is time for the EU to draw the necessary conclusions.

By upholding the universality of the very values that have inspired its own creation, the EU can and should contribute to the end of impunity that fuels the conflict. Accountability is now long overdue.