William Schabas, the Canadian jurist who stepped down from the lead role in the UN Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry into the Israel-Gaza war of 2014, said that Israel’s pre-emptive report exonerating itself of war crimes while placing the blame squarely on Hamas is no substitute for an international investigation.
In an interview with Channel 2, Schabas lamented Israel’s decision not to cooperate with UN investigators, who are due to release their findings sometime this week.
“When it suits it, Israel cooperates with commissions of inquiry,” Schabas said. “When it comes to the UN Human Rights Council and its commission of inquiry, it hasn’t cooperated. I think that’s unfortunate. I think it’s not in Israel’s best interests to boycott commissions of inquiry. It’s not a question of alternatives. It’s both.”
“It should cooperate with the international commission of inquiry, and it should also conduct the investigation itself,” he said.
Schabas brushed aside Israel’s contention that Hamas was the only party to commit war crimes during Operation Protective Edge.
“It would be a very unusual war if only one side committed violations of the laws of war and the other behaved perfectly,” Schabas said. “That would be an unusual situation and an unusual conclusion. The greater likelihood is that both sides actually committed violations of the law during the conflict.”
Earlier this year, Schabas resigned his post as head of the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war, after Israel charged that he had worked as a consultant for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012.
In a letter on the matter Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report.
Israel hailed Schabas’ resignation as a “diplomatic victory.”
“It proves that even the biggest hypocrites in international bodies can not ignore the fact that appointing Schabas to investigate Israel was like appointing Cain to investigate who killed Abel,” then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman said.
Liberman added that he did not believe Schabas’ departure, however, would change the nature of the report, which is expected to condemn Israel.
Schabas' departure highlights the sensitivity of the UN investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories.
Reuters contributed to this report.