Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Human Rights Watch on Israel's (and Hizballah's) Violations of the Laws of Warfare

Under U.S. law, the Arms Export Control Act for instance, U.S. weapons purchasers must agree only to use those weapons for purposes of self-defense. A finding that a country has failed to adhere to that committment requires that arms transfers be suspended. As this initial report from Human Rights Watch clearly indicates, Israel's has established a pattern in this war of shelling and bombing targets without taking sufficient care to minimize civilian casualties. The report draws upon on-the-ground interviews, examinations of impact areas, and other observations. Moreover, Israel has targeted areas extensively inhabited by civilians simply because those areas are known to be sympathetic to Hizballah.
The report is essential reading if you wish to understand how this war is being fought.

While the main focus of this report is Israel, the report makes clear that Hizballah has also committed violations, such as intentionally targetting civilian areas. However, Hizballah's actions do not excuse Israel from its obligations under international law, indlucing the Geneva conventions of 1949.
Israel's charges that Hizballah is using civilians as "human shields" is not really borne out in the report, although the report does allude to instances of weapons stored in civlian homes. Israel, for its part, has used Palestinian civilians literally as human shields in the occupied territories, which has drawn little comment from the U.S. press.

Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon: Summary: "The Israeli government claims that it targets only Hezbollah, and that fighters from the group are using civilians as human shields, thereby placing them at risk. Human Rights Watch found no cases in which Hezbollah deliberately used civilians as shields to protect them from retaliatory IDF attack. Hezbollah occasionally did store weapons in or near civilian homes and fighters placed rocket launchers within populated areas or near U.N. observers, which are serious violations of the laws of war because they violate the duty to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties. However, those cases do not justify the IDF’s extensive use of indiscriminate force which has cost so many civilian lives. In none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in this report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah forces or weapons were in or near the area that the IDF targeted during or just prior to the attack.

By consistently failing to distinguish between combatants and civilians, Israel has violated one of the most fundamental tenets of the laws of war: the duty to carry out attacks on only military targets. The pattern of attacks during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon suggests that the failures cannot be explained or dismissed as mere accidents; the extent of the pattern and the seriousne"

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