Gaza Crisis Mirrors Inefficiency of International Law

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nasrin Mosaffa
Professor of Tehran University & UN Expert

International human rights movement came into being with the formulation of the Charter of the United Nations and through frequent references to the horrendous nature of crimes committed against ordinary people during the World War II. By and by, this movement made efforts to bolster its legitimacy by issuing statements and approving binding documents in order to formulate norms, pass regulations, and establish new organs and institutions both inside and outside the United Nations. However, in addition to concerns and questions that have consistently existed about political, social, cultural and economic capabilities of this huge body of laws, whose activities are aimed at protecting human beings, it is currently facing major challenges for the realization of its goals, especially under emergency circumstances and conditions of hostile conflicts.

Despite all efforts that have been made so far, global mechanisms have not been actually able to deal effectively with blatant cases in which human rights and humanitarian law, which are totally intermingled in view of the realities of the contemporary world, have been violated. Apart from all clear cases that have taken place during the past decades, a striking instance of the violation of human rights is the current situation and acute conditions of people in the Gaza Strip, which are, of course, not limited to the ongoing crisis. Recent remarks by Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed to a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on July 23, 2014, was good evidence to inability of international mechanisms in dealing with such crises. Pillay clearly noted that she and her predecessors only relied on facts, laws, and common sense judgments, adding that they had done this so far and will continue to do the same in the future, though they have frequently come under fire for such efforts. The High Commissioner also noted that Gazan children and women accounted for the main part of the Israeli attack’s victims, adding that “All the dead and maimed civilians should weigh heavily on all consciences, as all efforts to protect them had been abject failures.” She also urged “more powerful entities, such as the Security Council, and individual States with serious leverage over the parties to this dreadful and interminable conflict,” to “do far more than they had done so far to bring the conflict to an end once and for all.

The remarks by Navi Pillay, as the highest ranking US human rights official, in addition to what UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos said in the same meeting when explaining the human catastrophe and the rising civilian casualties in the ongoing Gaza crisis, will be hard to tolerate for any conscientious person. Over 1000 Palestinians, including more than 200 children and many women have been so far killed in Gaza and the death toll keeps rising with every hour passing.

Hundreds of Palestinians homes have been destroyed by the invading Israeli military and more than 140,000 Palestinians have been seeking refuge in other places. Schools, hospitals, and various installations, including facilities and buildings run by the United Nations have been razed to the ground. On average, one Palestinian child loses his/her life every hour. Disabled women are torn to pieces on their wheelchairs. Killer Israeli drones continue to bomb various parts of the General Assembly. All these catastrophic events are taking place on top of a crippling siege on the coastal enclave, which has already blocked Gaza people’s access to such essential and primary needs as potable water, foodstuff, fuel, electricity and first aid. As admitted by Pillay, Israel has even ignored and violated international obligations and responsibilities of an occupying force. Long occupation of Palestinian lands, which has brought them nothing but insecurity, and ignoring the right of the Palestinian people to survive and determine their own destiny, among other rights, are major breaches of international obligations by Israel.

Such remarks by international authorities all attest to blatant violations of human rights and the norms of international humanitarian law, especially with regard to such principles as proportion between a threat and the response given to it, the need to differentiate between the military and civilian population, and the need to exercise cautious in case of any military undertaking. In fact, the ongoing crisis in Gaza is a clear manifestation of the inefficiency of international law, especially international humanitarian law. Of course, this may be a very pessimistic conclusion. A large part of the pressure that has been currently put on Israel is a result of the crimes perpetrated by the Tel Aviv regime and blatant violation of customary rules of international law. This is why even the staunchest supporters of Israel have been forced to avoid defending Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip and highlight Tel Aviv’s violations of primary principles of international law and human rights.

After the establishment of Israel and political crises that followed it, the UN has frequently repeated the measures that it usually takes in such cases: holding international conferences and meetings, dispatching peacekeeping forces, establishing UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), sending special envoys, organizing fact-finding groups, choosing special rapporteurs, adopting resolutions and so forth. However, all these measures lack the necessary political will and guarantees that are embedded in the Security Council’s decisions and this is why Pillay has urged the member states of the Security Council to “do far more than they had done so far to bring the conflict to an end once and for all.”

Perhaps, she thinks that the unprecedented candor in her latest remarks, now that her tenure is coming to an end, may reduce the heavy burden that weighs on her conscience and of which she has talked at the end of her speech. The former UN human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, lost her second term in office after she prepared a report on Israel’s crimes at Jenin refugee camp, which evoked harsh opposition of the United States. Unlike her, Mrs. Pillay has plucked up her courage in the later months of her second term, which is her last term in office, and has now decided to deal with the situation in Palestine on the basis of her professional requirements in accordance with Paragraph (a), Article 2 of the UN General Assembly Resolution 141 (adopted on December 20, 1993). According to that article, “…the High Commissioner for Human Rights shall be a person of high moral standing and personal integrity and shall possess expertise, including in the field of human rights, and the general knowledge and understanding of diverse cultures necessary for impartial, objective, non-selective and effective performance of the duties of the High Commissioner.”

Now, we must wait and see how her Jordanian successor, who should be practically familiar with the problems and suffering of Palestinians, would remain committed to the aforesaid professional requirements and human obligations. The consequence of the UN decision to establish Israel is war crimes that have been committed frequently by this regime. Although it is the bodies of Palestinian people that are washed in their blood, those crimes have also greatly weighed down on the conscience and human spirit of the world and have dealt drastic blows to international human rights movement, which had promised to protect human dignity of all people.

Perhaps, UN officials believe that expression of sympathy and mere condemnation will make up for the aforesaid blows to human rights movement. However, the undeniable reality of the modern world beyond all expressions of sympathy is that the UN has failed in making sure about fulfilling what has been said in the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations about the world body’s obligation “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” If a six-year Gazan child has not already died of hunger, or if they have not already experienced injury and disability, and have not faced dire problems with regard to essential needs of their life, they have, at least, seen three bouts of war and bloodshed in the besieged territory and have spent all their life under siege. In the meantime, the entire world has been, of course, expressing its sympathy with them!!!

Key Words: Gaza Crisis, International Law, Charter of United Nations, Navi Pillay, UN Human Rights Council, Valerie Amos, International Humanitarian Law, Israel, Mosaffa

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: NBC News, Asriran