Israel dismissed the Monday appointment of the three members of a UN human rights’ investigative committee to review the recent military operation in Gaza, saying the identity of the three proved that the results of the probe were a foregone conclusion.
The committee will be headed by Canadian Prof. William Schabas, and was to include British-Lebanese rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, best known for her recent engagement to actor George Clooney, and Doudou Dienne of Senegal, who has previously served as the UN’s watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast.
However, Alamuddin later released a statement saying that she was too busy with eight other cases and could not take on the UN position. “I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavours,” she wrote. “I am horrified by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian causalities that have been caused, and strongly believe that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed,” she stressed.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry was bitterly critical of the probe and the panel. “Already at the time that the decision to establish the committee was adopted, on July 23, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister announced that the Human Rights Council long ago became the Terrorists Rights Council and a ‘kangaroo court,’ and that the findings of its “investigations” are predetermined,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“If further proof is needed, the appointment of the chairman of the committee, whose opinions and positions against Israel are well known, proves beyond any doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from such a body.”
The statement concluded that “the committee’s report has already been written and at the moment it has only been defined who will sign on it.”
Schabas, a professor of International Law at London’s Middlesex University, has called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.
He also supported the 2010 Goldstone Report into Israel’s last ground offensive in Gaza, though he said in a later interview that the scale of destruction in Gaza did not compare to other atrocities in the world.
UN Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog with ties to Israel, slammed the appointment and called on Schabas to recuse himself.
“You can’t spend several years calling for the prosecution of someone, and then suddenly act as his judge,” UN Watch head Hillel Neuer said in a statement. “It’s absurd — and a violation of the minimal rules of due process applicable to UN fact-finding missions.”
UN Watch also accused the UN of trying to score publicity points by naming Alamuddin.
The 36-year-old, who is fluent in Arabic, French and English, studied at a French school in London and holds degrees from Oxford and New York University.
She worked with the international tribunal examining the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and assisted ex-UN head Kofi Annan in efforts to make peace in Syria.
In the face of fierce opposition from Israel and the United States, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted on July 23 to create the commission of inquiry.
The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where the Israelis and the Palestinians traded accusations over war crimes.
The probe team has been tasked with reporting back to the council by March 2015.
Almost 2,000 people have been killed in Gaza in the past month’s fighting, according to officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are combatants, while Gaza has not broken down the deaths.
Israel also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.”
Israel lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting, which is on hold as the sides attempt to negotiate a ceasefire in Cairo.
Eleven of the Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from cross-border tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from areas close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.
The report is likely to be seen by many as a new iteration of the 2010 Goldstone Report, the result of a UNHRC investigation, led by South African former judge Richard Goldstone, which accused Israel of a policy of deliberately targeting civilians during the 2009 Operation Cast Lead, a previous military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, which had refused to cooperate with the investigation at the time, sharply rejected the claim. In 2011, Goldstone retracted the accusation of a deliberate policy to target civilians.
Jerusalem has not yet indicated whether it will cooperate with the new probe.
AFP contributed to this report