Workshop Describes Planned UN Rights Commission in oPt

On August 19, 2014, the Birzeit University Institute of Law and the Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute of International Studies in cooperation with the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat held a workshop on a United Nations Commission of Inquiry that plans to investigate violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).

Secretariat Manager Mustafa Mari explained that the workshop was organized to address the needs of civil society as they work on defense of human rights in the oPt, especially related to the latest developments in Gaza.  In light of the establishment of the independent commission of inquiry by the UN to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, Mari explained that the workshop was to discuss ways of working with the commission, as with the 2009 UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.   

Head of the oPt Office of the High Commission for Human Rights Matthias Behnke discussed the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution establishing the commission, its mechanisms and its implications, and its most relevant content. Behnke explained that the resolution calls on Switzerland, in its capacity as depositary of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties on measures to ensure respect for the Conventions in the oPt, including East Jerusalem.  Behnke explained that the commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the president of the UN Human Rights Council, was established with a mandate to investigate violations in the oPt, especially in the Gaza Strip, from June 13, 2014 and to submit its report to the Human Rights Council session in March 2015.  Behnke pointed out that the commission will make recommendations based on the report, while emphasizing the independence of the commission and its non-judicial nature.  Behnke also mentioned that Israeli denial of access to the commission may be its biggest obstacle and hinder its work.

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin emphasized the importance of documentation efforts by local organizations and the mandate of the commission to identify perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whereas the previous UN Fact Finding Commission on the Gaza Conflict was not provided a mandate to identify those responsible. Jabarin emphasized Palestinians’ responsibility to ensure a successful report, particularly in its follow-up. 

The workshop concluded with a series of questions and interventions, including the alternatives available to the committee in the event of Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the commission and allow its access to the oPt. 

The workshop was held in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and was attended by a wide range of participants from civil society, the government, the university and elsewhere.