Returning Hadar Goldin's remains is a legal and moral imperative

Prof. Irwin Cotler has never been satisfied with preaching the theory of human rights, but has spent his life actively engaging with the causes he has championed in the deepest sense.

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June 23, 2018 21:48
4 minute read.
Simha and Leah Goldin with a   photo of Hadar doing one of the activities he loved - painting - his

Simha and Leah Goldin with a photo of Hadar doing one of the activities he loved - painting - his last piece before he was killed.. (photo credit: LAURA BEN-DAVID)

 
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If there is anything disheartening I have learned in my years of involvement in just, humanitarian causes, it is that the law itself is simply not enough. No matter the significance of the cause and the legal theory supporting it, particularly in our frenetic, fast-paced world, every cause needs a champion.

So it was with the just case and cause of standing against the South African apartheid regime and the release of Nelson Mandela, its icon; so it was with the struggle for Soviet Jewry and for the release of “refuseniks” from the former Soviet Union, including it's symbols, Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Vladamir Slepak, Alexander Lerner, among others; so it was with the struggle for the world’s attention and intervention in the horrors of the genocide in Darfur; so it is with the deafening silence on China’s human rights abuses generally, and in particular toward the Falun Gong; so it is with the struggle for the release of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi.

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It has been my privilege to witness a true champion in action for each and every one of these causes, among many others. Throughout my life, I have observed my father, Prof. Irwin Cotler, make not only a legal, but a personal commitment to each of these causes. As a prominent international legal scholar, he was never satisfied with preaching the theory of human rights, but rather has spent his life actively engaging with the causes he has championed in the deepest sense.

Most recently, accompanying the Goldin family to UN European institutions, Prof. Cotler explained, “From a legal point of view, the Goldin case is a looking glass in a larger sense, as to all the fundamental responsibilities under international humanitarian law.
On the personal level,” he added, “the Goldin case is one in which the entire family is being kept hostage; it is a case of human suffering; a case where one cannot just stand by and be indifferent to the human suffering on the one hand, the continued exploitation by Hamas on the other, and the inaction by the international community.”

In a world plagued by horrors too terrible to imagine but not too terrible to have happened; devastated by tragedies inflicted by human beings on other human beings; challenged by indifference, silence and inaction of those professing ignorance or standing idly by; plagued by hypocrisy that empowers of human rights abusers and de facto permits tyrants to do as they please, it seems we should be desperately searching for the recipe that turns human rights theory into human rights practice; human rights preachers into human rights warriors. After years of witnessing, experiencing and partaking in the struggle for such causes, it seems quite plausible that the making of a human rights champion requires a convergence of the personal and the professional. 

It is that union of the personal and the professional that is required for an authentic, profound and deep commitment of all that truly champion human rights to do whatever possible to bring an end to human suffering. It is that union of the personal and the professional that is required  to fuel the unequivocal demand for accountability of the international community and institutions, demanding that they take responsibility for the outright breach by Hamas of a UN brokered humanitarian ceasefire almost four years ago. It is that union of the personal and the professional that is required in order to ensure that the relevant responsible parties are doing all that is humanly possible to uphold the very clear and unambiguous commitments of the Geneva Convention and guaranteeing the return of Hadar Goldin’s remains.

Championing this cause from the perspective of international humanitarian law requires resolute action rather than pronouncements and declarations. If humanitarian law is to fulfill its very raison-d’être, human rights champions cannot simply stand by indifferently. Inaction not only betrays the cause of human rights, but inevitably facilitates continued abuses and undermines the very tenets on which they are founded and are meant to advance, uphold and protect.



In this particular cause, the convergence of personal and professional motivations demands that Hadar Goldin’s remains be returned to his aching family so they can begin to mourn their tragic loss. The institutions and individuals that brokered the “humanitarian cease-fire,” during which Goldin was abducted and murdered almost four years ago, must fulfill their obligation, championing this cause and backing up their statements with concrete action. Declarations are simply not enough.

To quote Prof. Cotler, a true human rights champion, “International law cannot be left to the realm of declarations. It must be implemented as part of the policy and commitment. If you look at any of the European institutions, they all speak about three things: the promotion and protection of human dignity; compliance with humanitarian law obligations; and combating impunity. All these three things arise in the case and cause of Hadar Goldin. Therefore, if the EU is to be true to its own commitments, which are part of the corpus of implementation of international law, then it has to work to see that these fundamental humanitarian law obligations continue not to be violated, but to be respected.”

Every cause needs a champion. Being willing to be that champion; to stand up for what is right; to act rather than make declarations; to identify the convergence between the personal and the professional, those are the makings of human rights champions that have the incredible power to heal our broken world. That is the terrible pity when they do not.

The writer is a PhD candidate in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a board member of Tzav Pius.

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