UN mission finds Israel used “incredible violence” in Flotilla raid

The following press release was issued by the Palestine Legal Aid Fund on 25 September 2010:

“No one was safe,” once Israeli soldiers began using live ammunition on board the Mavi Marmara, says an authoritative UN investigation team into the Israeli attacks on the Gaza aid flotilla.

Their report is now going to be considered by the 57-member UN Human Rights Council that has the chance to finally ensure that Israel is held accountable for committing what the UN Fact-Finding Mission (UNFFM) found to be serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law including war crimes of willful killing and torture.

The UNFFM found that Israeli military personnel used “incredible violence” against civilians who the investigators describe as “persons genuinely committed to the spirit of humanitarianism.” These persons include the British passengers who were on board the Gaza-bound aid flotilla. They have both welcomed the findings of the UN inquiry — which found a strong prima facie case of the commission of several war crimes — and have urged UK government and Human Rights Council members to refer these war crimes allegations to the International Criminal Court.

British passenger Alex Harrison, a 32-year-old activist, responded to the report by saying, “I sincerely welcome the UN mission’s confirmation that Israel’s siege on Gaza is an unlawful collective punishment and their finding that the attack on our flotilla was unjustified and brutal.”

The report affirmed the Gaza blockade and flotilla interception as illegal. These findings underscore the legal arguments put forward by lawyers who have been working with the passengers since 31 May and supported in part by the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund (www.humanrightsfund.org).

The Mission recommends that the perpetrators of the attacks should be brought to justice. The Mission has indicated that these breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention could give rise to individual criminal responsibility.

Daniel Machover, partner at London law firm Hickman and Rose, advising 29 of the 33 British passengers, said: “It is essential that the British Government now stops sitting on the fence and comes out very clearly in support of the protection and enforcement of human rights, including of their own nationals, several of whom were subject to some serious human rights violations and war crimes. That means the Government must refer the war crimes cases to the ICC without delay and must demand in clear terms that the Israeli authorities return every single item of property unlawfully seized from the British passengers, failing which the Government will take diplomatic measures and provide state funding for the passengers to bring civil and criminal claims in Israel.”

Mary Nazzal-Batayneh, Chairperson of the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund said, “This is a huge first step, however, we all still have a lot of work to do to make sure that these cases are pursued in court, securing genuine sanctions for the perpetrators and civil and criminal remedies for the survivors. As we all know, Israel has ignored UN criticism in the past and will continue to do so unless we take action to hold them genuinely to account. The nature of the attacks on the flotilla, against international passengers, creates unique legal opportunities to do so.”

The passengers and the Human Rights Legal Aid Fund have launched a fundraising campaign in order to ensure that cases are launched to make the UN’s findings enforceable in international courts.