| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(August 4,2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Today the world stands disgraced,” the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which runs shelters for Palestinians, reacted to the shelling of a Gaza school that was serving as a U.N. shelter for 3,000 Palestinians said by openly weeping on CNN News.

Unlike the Palestinians whose Arab allies are distancing themselves, the Tamils have the backing of the West which are increasingly sympathetic towards their plight and whoses votes cannot be scoffed at come election time. Moreover they have the support of Tamilnadu, the immediate neighbour, which continues to apply pressure on the Modi Government to support UNHRC war crimes probe against Sri Lanka.

Human rights lawyer Geoffrey Nice of international repute based in London is one of those engaged by the Sri Lankan Government to be part of the three international advisory panel to investigate possible war crimes. Interestingly he was the lead prosecutor in indicting Yugoslavian leader and war criminal Slobodan Milosevic who died in Hague he was serving sentence for war crimes.

If Israel could face war crimes charges as QC Nice indicated, there is every possibility than probability Sri Lanka would suffer the same fate even though it has not ratified the ICC treaty just like the US, Israel and Cambodia among other nations. Still their leaders were indicted and imprisoned in ICC the UN’s war crimes court which has the final say in meting out justice to war crimes violators be they those in power or belonging to terrorist movements. 

Come September UNHRC under Navi Pillay would forward its report with the final outcome presented in March 2015. That she is relinquishing her post as High Commissioner in august is irrelevant since she had done her homework good and proper as befits her position. The noose is tightening on the president as he goes to polls in the Uva Province and showing signs of winning but war crimes allegations are not going away; not by a long chalk.

Mahinda Rajapakse has every reason to be jittery since once war crimes probe proper begins he needs to account for how he conducted the war annihilating the LTTE along with 40,000 or more civilians who were asked to seek refuge under White Flag. That his security forces blatantly disregarded UN and ICRC stipulated norms and attempted to cause genocide intentionally is not lost on war crimes investigators be they engaged by this government or the UNHRC.

Sri Lanka should be wary of the events unfurling in Gaza and Pentagon’s first admission that its supply of weapons to Israel contravenes Geneva Convention.

The world is finally awakening from its slumber and realising that Israel cannot hold on to its stubborn stance of a mythical and ancient belief that Jews are the rightful inheritors of Palestine.

On Thursday, during an interview with CNN’s Tom Clancy, QC Nice came out strongly against Israeli aggression in Gaza and indicated that Israeli government stands a good chance of being indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity due to its over-reaction to Hamas attacks on Israel. In the same interview, Pentagon finally admits it continues to supply Israel with weapons and it contravenes Geneva Convention according to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

“Today the world stands disgraced,” the head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which runs shelters for Palestinians, reacted to the shelling of a Gaza school that was serving as a U.N. shelter for 3,000 Palestinians said by openly weeping on CNN News.

Benjamin Netanyahu is on record proclaiming that until tunnels penetrating Israel are demolished Israel would continue its attacks in Palestine. Hamas and other militant groups operating from Gaza too are adamant in their offensive against Israel shielding behind innocent Palestinian civilians whose death toll is fast reaching 2000. 

Following is the CNN report on Gaza:

Twenty people were killed, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The United Nations blames Israel for the attack. Israel has not given a direct explanation, but says many Hamas rockets misfire and fall within Gaza; it also says that Hamas purposefully fire weapons from civilian areas and that the Israeli military does not target civilians.

UNRWA says that it had sent the school’s GPS coordinates to Israel 17 separate times to ensure it would remain safe.
“You see the Israelis shifting over the last several days to ground weapons,” CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr says. “You see them using tanks, mortars, artillery.”

“The real pinpoint accuracy comes if you’re going to go back to relying on airstrikes, because that type of munition – bombs out of aircraft – these days are guided to their target by a laser using GPS coordinates.”

Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, said Thursday that the shelling of the school was “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.”

Could Israel face war crimes charges?

“It certainly could,” Geoffrey Nice, one of the world’s most renowned war crimes prosecutors, told CNN’s Jim Clancy, in for Christiane Amanpour, on Thursday.

Nice was the lead prosecutor of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian leader.

“It’s always been open for Palestine to bring them, if it was prepared to sign up as a states party of the International Criminal Court.”

“If it does that, two things follow: It will be able to refer this matter to the prosecutor of the Court for her to consider; but it will expose itself to an investigation as well.”

That, of course, is key.

Though the focus of world condemnation is currently on Israel for the conduct of its Gaza offensive, the Israeli government maintains that Hamas is a terrorist organization that fires rockets towards Israel with no regard to what, or whom, they land on.

Nice made clear that “without proper investigation” it would be inappropriate for him “to express an opinion on culpability.”

‘Taking a risk’

“Where you are engaged in combat, in areas where there’s a risk of collateral damage to civilians, questions of proportionality arise, as well as questions of foreknowledge of the risk that you may be taking.”

If someone is using something like a school or hospital from which to fire rockets, as Israel alleged Hamas does, “it can expose that school or hospital to attack.”

“Hamas,” Starr said, “are very expert at a sort of shoot and scoot tactic – they shoot and they move very quickly.”

Nice told Clancy that Israel “may have the right of self-defence, providing it takes appropriate steps to avoid excessive collateral damage.”

But civilians and places like schools and religious sites, he said, are protected under various international statutes, including the Geneva Conventions. Anybody conducting a war who kills civilians or damages protected sites is “always taking a risk.”

“The really good news, if there is any good news out of this, is that we seem to be edging towards the position where the international citizen no longer accepts that what may be crimes in conflict go unaccounted for.”

A changing dynamic

“Until now, there have been a great bloc of countries – America, Russia, China, and other big countries, but also Israel – who are not signed up to the International Criminal Court and who, it has seemed, are immune from pursuit” of prosecution, Nice said.

In fact, things have been changing.

He cited the case of a Comoros-flagged ship, the Mavi Marmara, which tried to break the blockade on Gaza in 2010. Israel led an assault on that ship before it reached Gaza.

Because the ship was registered in Comoros, which is a member of the ICC, Nice said, “the prosecutor is having to consider that application to open an investigation, which would concern Israel.”

But of course if Palestine, as he referred to it, were to bring a case, “it would be an opportunity to look at both sides, which must be the right thign to do.”

And to take things one step further, such a case could even concern the United States, which supplies weapons to Israel.

Just this week the Pentagon said it was resupplying Israel with “tank rounds and illumination rounds.”
“If there were to be an investigation into this situation involving Israel,” Nice said, “the investigation could extend to those who knowingly supplied the weapons – if, by chance, they would know of the risks of war crimes being committed by the use of those weapons.”

The message for Sri Lanka is loud and clear. It cannot bury its head in the sand like an ostrich and hope things would blow away if it diverted its attention on showcase developments such as the impotent Mattala airport, casinos, golf courses and importing East European and South East Asian damsels to pander to foreign diplomats and local VIPs including the Rajapaksa clan who run the country.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearlthev@hotmail.com)