GENEVA (AFP) – The head of a UN human rights mission investigating the war in the Gaza Strip six months ago underlined on Tuesday that he was striving for a balanced outcome despite the obstacles.
Israel has refused to cooperate with the UN fact-finding mission or allow it onto its territory, arguing that its mandate is biased even though mission chief Richard Goldstone and UN rights officials had it broadened to consider all sides.
But Goldstone suggested that he would not be swayed, and indicated that there had been shortcomings in cooperation from ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority as well.
"There's a disadvantage in not having had cooperation from the government of Israel but we haven't had the fullest cooperation from any party and that's the nature of this beast," the former war crimes prosecutor and South African judge said.
"It may be that we can't come to some conclusions, there may be questions with no answers, but we'll certainly raise them and it'll be for political bodies to take it further if they wish," he said on the final day of public hearings by the panel of four experts.
Goldstone also announced that he was taking into account events stretching back to a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in June 2008.
The mission is aiming to present its report in September after gathering testimony and expert accounts over the past two months, and visiting the Gaza Strip.
Shortly after Goldstone's comments, UN Watch challenged the impartiality of one of the four members of the panel set up by the UN Human Rights Council on January 12.
UN Watch said it was formally seeking the withdrawal or disqualification of British law professor Christine Chinkin on the grounds that she had already publicly taken a stance accusing Israel of war crimes and violating human rights law during the Gaza offensive.
Its submission notably cited a letter published in The Sunday Times on January 11 that she jointly signed with other academics and lawyers.
The UN human rights office was unable to confirm immediately that the challenge had been filed or comment on its claims.
However, in that letter to the newspaper, Chinkin and the legal experts also took Hamas to task over suicide bombings and missiles fired into Israel, calling them war crimes.
One of the crucial differences of this UN fact-finding mission has been its unprecedented decision to hold some hearings in public.
"The testimony we have heard from victims, not only in the public hearings but during our visits in Gaza, have been very difficult to hear, but I believe it's important that we listen to these stories," Goldstone explained.
"The purpose was to show the human side of suffering, to give a voice to the victims so they are not lost among statistics."
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the fighting between Decenber 28, 2008 and January 18. About 5,500 people were wounded, the overwhelming majority of them reported in Gaza.
The final hearing Tuesday was devoted to testimony from Palestinian lawyers documenting ill treatment by Israelis forces as well as expert opinion on legal issues.
The most cutting assessment came from Salehaldin Musa of the Palestinian Human Rights Commission, who criticised violations on all sides, including infighting between rival Palestinian factions.
"Many people took this invasion as a moment for revenge," he said, pointing out that detention of political opponents did not stop with the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
"The culture of violations and disregard for human rights is far reaching," he told the mission.
"It's clear for everyone that Palestinian people are ruled by three authorities," including Israel which is "a supreme power imposing what is relevant to its security interests without dealing with human rights," Musa added.
The two-day session here, which began with Israeli testimony of the trauma suffered under rocket attacks, followed a first set of hearings in the Gaza Strip late last month.
Those were dominated by gruesome testimony of Palestinians trapped under Israeli shelling during the 22-day offensive.
Copyright 2009, Agence France Presse
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