Amnesty and Israel clash over arms and human rights

Beit Hanoun, Gaza, after a recent Israeli military occupation. (Tom Spender/IRIN)

The London-based human rights organisation Amnesty International has asked the European Union (EU) to block arms sale to Israel and Palestinians so as to stave off impending disaster in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

However, Israel has reacted negatively to the proposal.

In an open letter to the EU on International Human Rights Day on Sunday, Amnesty’s secretary general Irene Khan said worsening human rights abuses in Israel and the Palestinian territories would lead to catastrophe.

“We see a downward spiral of human rights abuses and entrenched impunity, sowing the seeds of a disaster with catastrophic consequences for ordinary people,” she wrote.

Khan told the EU that all weapons sales to both sides should be suspended until it was certain they would not be used in ways that break international law.

“We urge you… to use your utmost influence on all sides to immediately end the killings and attacks on civilians and to agree to human rights measures which can help to build confidence and hope,” she wrote.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Khan’s call for an arms embargo on Israel would endanger the lives of all its citizens.

“It would leave every man woman and child in this country to face a multitude of hostile challenges that there are here. It ignores the real threats faced by the Jewish state and gives comfort to those who say Israel should be wiped off the map,” he said.

“Israel is a democracy where there is rule of law which puts the issue of human rights at the centre of civic life,” he added.

Khan, who is leading an Amnesty mission to the region, had said that “Most civilian deaths have been the result of deliberate and reckless shooting and artillery shelling or air strikes by Israeli forces carried out in densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip”.

She also asked the EU to set up a human rights monitoring body in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and prosecute those on both sides who are responsible for war crimes or other crimes under international law.

Palestinian human rights activists welcomed the proposals.

“We appreciate this - but monitoring alone is not enough. It must be followed by accountability in an international court or a special legal follow-up,” said Jaber Wishah, deputy director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

“We want an international investigating committee and we have no problem if it investigates the human rights violations of both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides,” he said, adding that he would also like to see an international peacekeeping force deployed under UN auspices to protect the Israelis and the Palestinians from each other.

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Related Links

  • Amnesty International
  • Amnesty International head sends open letter to EU heads of state, Irene Khan, Amnesty International (10 December 2006)