American former war crimes prosecutor to head UN Gaza probe
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American former war crimes prosecutor to head UN Gaza probe

Human Rights Council appoints committee of three headed by David Crane to probe ‘2018 protests in Occupied Palestinian Territory’; Israel unlikely to cooperate

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative. Tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces land amid Palestinians during clashes along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Illustrative. Tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces land amid Palestinians during clashes along the border with Israel east of Gaza City on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday announced the members of a committee who will probe the deaths at the Gaza border this summer.

The panel will be headed by David Michael Crane, a US law professor and former prosecutor in war crimes trials. The other two members of the “Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” are Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer educated in the UK, and Kaari Betty Murungi, a lawyer and human rights activist from Kenya.

The appointments were announced by the president of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, Vojislav Šuc of Slovenia.

The Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the members of the panel. However, officials in Jerusalem are unlikely to cooperate with the probe, which they have rejected from its very inception.

NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog often critical of UN probes into Israeli actions, said it was wary of the panel.

“We are highly concerned by the one-sided and conclusory mandate in the UNHRC resolution establishing this Commission, as well as the prejudicial statements made Monday by High Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein ignoring Hamas violations,” Anne Herzberg, the group’s legal adviser, said.

“This commission therefore has a very high burden to show that its work is fair and should be taken seriously.”

David M. Crane Interviewed by BBC World, January 22, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Crane, who will head the probe, is currently a professor at Syracuse University College of Law.

From 2002 to 2005, he was the founding chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international war crimes tribunal, according to his website at Syracuse University.

Crane served over 30 years in the US federal government. Appointed to the Senior Executive Service of the United States in 1997, Crane has held numerous key managerial positions during his three decades of public service and was a professor of international law at the US Army Judge Advocate General’s School.

On May 18, the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor of creating an “independent, international commission of inquiry” that will be asked to produce a final report on the events at the Gaza border by March 2019.

According to its mandate, the panel will “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”

In voting overwhelmingly in favor of Resolution S-28/1, the 47-member body mandated the panel “to establish the facts and circumstances, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedure mandate holders, of the alleged violations and abuses, including those that may amount to war crimes” and “to identify those responsible.”

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote — 29 countries voted in favor, and two against with 14 abstaining — as “irrelevant.”

“The organization that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror, but mostly it proved it is irrelevant,” he said. “The State of Israel will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced Israel would not cooperate with the investigation.

“The UN Human Rights Council prefers to back Hamas instead of supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from terror,” she said at the time. “We have no intention of cooperating with an international investigative committee that wants to dictate results without a connection to facts.”

In June, the US quit the The Hague-based body, citing among other things its preoccupation with Israel.

Israel welcomed the US’s move. “For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time.

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