Schabas: Both sides likely guilty of war crimes in Gaza conflict

Former UN inquiry chief says it would be ‘unusual’ for only one warring party to violate international law

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

William Schabas (YouTube screenshot)
William Schabas (YouTube screenshot)

The former head of the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the Gaza conflict said Monday that both Israel and Hamas likely violated international law during the 50-day conflict, adding that it would be “unusual” for only one party to have carried out war crimes without the other side following suit.

Canadian law expert William Schabas, who resigned from the probe in February amid Israeli allegations of bias over consulting work he once did for the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Channel 2: “It would actually be a very unusual war if only one side had committed violations of the laws of war and the other side behaved perfectly.

“That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion. And the greater likelihood is that both sides actually” violated international law, he said.

Schabas also said it was “unfortunate” that Israel refused to cooperate with the UN Gaza probe into the 50-day conflict.

“When it suits Israel, it cooperates with the commission of inquiry, but in the case of the commission of inquiry set up by the Human Rights Council, it hasn’t cooperated and I think that’s unfortunate,” he said. “I think it’s not in Israel’s best interests to boycott the commission of inquiry.”

The law expert also said that an Israeli report on the war, released Sunday ahead of the UN report expected in the coming days, was insufficient.

“It’s not a question of an alternative, it should be both. [Israel] should cooperate with the international commission of inquiry and it should also conduct the investigation itself,” he said.

Schabas stepped down in February after Israel complained he could not be impartial because he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organization in October 2012. Schabas strongly denied that he was beholden to the PLO but said he was reluctantly stepping down to avoid the inquiry into the July-August conflict being compromised in any way.

Israel, unsatisfied, called for the entire inquiry to be shelved and insisted that the commission and the Human Rights Council, which created it, were inherently biased against the Jewish state.

Schabas’s resignation left the commission with only two members: former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, who took over as chair; and Doudou Dienne of Senegal, who previously served as the UN’s watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast.

The commission has been widely derided by Israeli officials as unfair and a “kangaroo court” whose conclusions were pre-written.

The appointment of Schabas to the body in August infuriated Israel, which accused him of holding views highly critical of the Jewish state. Schabas has said in the past he would be happy to see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prosecuted for war crimes.

Jerusalem said it would not cooperate with the probe or send officials to testify, though the commission has sought Israeli statements.

Anticipating the imminent publication of a United Nations report on last summer’s war in Gaza, the Israeli government on Sunday published its own account of the events which places the blame for the war’s casualties squarely on Hamas and armed factions operating in the Strip.

AFP and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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