PCHR expresses its grave concern at the ongoing culture of impunity afforded to Israeli soldiers for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes. The conclusion of an investigation by Israeli occupying forces, as recently stated in media reports, that the death of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, in March 2003 was “an accident” is only the latest example of this culture of impunity.
Rachel Corrie, an American citizen, was killed on 16 March 2003 when she and several other foreign peace activists had been attempting to prevent the demolition by the Israeli military of a Palestinian home in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
PCHR rejects the conclusion of an investigation by the Israeli occupying forces into the killing, and is concerned that the Israeli occupying forces did not conduct a proper investigation in accordance with minimum international standards on impartiality and thoroughness. In particular, affidavits taken from eyewitnesses to the killing by PCHR’s lawyers contrast sharply with the investigations apparent conclusion. These statements are attached to this press release (see related links below).
Eyewitnesses stated that, “The bulldozer continued even further until Rachel was directly underneath the center of the bulldozer. The bulldozer paused for a moment. It then reversed and drove back over her with its blade still down” and that “This engulfing of Rachel, and our screaming that this had happened, I believe, was visible to the crew of both the tank, the bulldozer which killed Rachel and the other bulldozer. The bulldozer driver however did not stop, nor adjust his speed but continued onwards at his slow and steady pace of five miles per hour, or so, for another four to five metres, without lifting his blade.”
Following the taking of these affidavits, PCHR submitted a request to the investigation department of the Israeli occupying forces that they question these eyewitnesses directly for the purposes of their investigation into the death. The questioning by Israeli occupying forces investigators took place in late March in the presence of Israeli lawyers representing PCHR.
PCHR deeply regrets the ongoing failure of the Israeli occupying forces and state to adhere to its obligations under international law to provide reparation for human rights violations. The culture of impunity for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law has existed for many years but has grown increasingly since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000. This failure to adhere to international obligations in respect of human rights violations includes a failure to conduct full and fair investigations; a failure to prosecute, in accordance with international standards on the right to a fair trial, individuals responsible for violations; and a failure to provide compensation for victims and victims’ families. PCHR is a legal aid agency providing representation for victims of human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. PCHR has submitted more than 1200 complaints to the Israeli occupying forces regarding human rights violations since the beginning of the current Intifada. In no case in which PCHR has submitted a complaint, has any individual in the Israeli occupying forces, security services or other persons, been prosecuted or otherwise disciplined for any act perpetrated against a Palestinian or foreign national. PCHR asserts that the State of Israel should be aware that where it fails in its specific legal obligations to conduct full and fair investigations into human rights violations, and bring those responsible to justice in accordance with international law, victims of Israeli war crimes may seek alternative judicial remedies abroad, including under the principle of universal jurisdiction.