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Commentary on the New Statesman interview with Richard Goldstone

"Impunity, generally speaking, has come to an end ‑ I don't think there's any person today accused of committing international crimes who can feel happy travelling. That in itself, if not a complete success, must act as a deterrent." (New Statesman Interview with Richard Goldstone, jurist and UN investigator)

Richard Goldstone headed the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict. The "Goldstone Report" affirmed what non-governmental organisations and fact-finding missions had also concluded in earlier reports: that Israel committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, its brutal assault on and invasion of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, including the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The New Statesman interview recalls how Judge Goldstone is "certainly a friend of Israel" and doesn't mind "being called a Zionist". It seems that this tiny detail has been forgotten or omitted by those who have accused him and his team of anti-Semitism for the conclusions that they reached in the final report. Goldstone's experience as Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda is also often omitted as critics attempt to discredit his commitment to the rule of law and the international justice system and expose in the process what they allege is his bias against Israel.

When he says that "impunity has come to an end" Goldstone reminds us all that, irrespective of what political stance one takes, there are laws of war such as the principle of distinction[i] and the principle of proportionality [ii] which are recognised by the whole of the international community, apply to every conflict and have to be respected by all. Failure to do so may constitute a war crime and culprits should be prosecuted by states and international legal entities. For over 60 years Israel has ignored UN Resolutions, denied the Palestinians' right to self-determination and built illegal settlements ‑ yet nothing meaningful has been done about this flagrant disregard for international law and conventions. Goldstone's remarks about alleged war criminals "not feeling happy travelling" show indirectly his support for the recent arrest warrant issued by a London Magistrates Court against former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He is right in saying that at the moment these efforts are more of a deterrent than a success, but they are a change in the right direction and hopefully they will increase in number.

Frankly, Palestinians do not want another fact-finding commission to report that there have been war crimes committed by Israel. They do not want another report to be published. They want the criminals to be brought to account. So let us give this report and those which preceded it[iii] the credit and value they deserve. Verily, the end of impunity is nigh.

[i] The principle of distinction prohibits all means and methods that can not make a distinction between those who do take part in hostilities, and are therefore considered combatants, and those who do not and are therefore protected (Article 48 Amended Protocol I). The sick and wounded, medical personnel, civilians and prisoners of war are all called protected persons

[ii] The principle of proportionality (Article 51 (5) (b) Amended Protocol I) states that even if there is a clear military target it is not possible to attack it if the risk of civilians or civilian property being harmed is larger than the expected military advantage

[iii] The Arab-League's Fact-Finding Committee, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Breaking the Silence etc

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