UN Gaza flotilla panel to hold first meeting

Ban: I am confident that this initiative will contribute to regional stability.

gaza flotilla raid 311 (photo credit: IDF)
gaza flotilla raid 311
(photo credit: IDF)
NEW YORK – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s panel of inquiry on the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident is set to meet for the first time in New York on Tuesday.
“I am grateful for the spirit of constructive engagement that has made this unprecedented panel possible,” Ban said at a news conference on Monday. “I am confident that this initiative will contribute to regional stability.”
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The four-member panel will include businessman Joseph Ciechanover representing Israel and Özdem Sanberk representing Turkey. It will be chaired by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and co-chaired by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Israel has “nothing to hide” from the secretary-general’s panel of inquiry, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement last week.
“It is in Israel’s national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident will be brought to light,” he said.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said, in a statement, that the UN panel would have the authority to “make recommendations as to how to avoid such events in the future.”
She also said the panel should complement rather than substitute for national investigations by Israel and Turkey.
The panel, however, has recently drawn criticism from the International Federation of Human Rights.
In an open letter to Ban, the organization expressed “serious concerns” with regard to the panel’s composition and mandate.
“In failing to meet the standards of an effective investigation, this probe risks contributing to a culture of impunity,” the federation’s letter read.
“As of now, the panel’s mandate has not been clearly defined and seems to be limited to simply assessing national investigation reports. This would clearly not be sufficient to bring to light the circumstances of this tragedy and bring those responsible to account, in an independent and impartial manner.”
Additionally, the International Federation of Human Rights letter characterized the panel’s composition as “highly political” and stated that Uribe’s inclusion in the panel’s membership would “seriously damage” its credibility.
“Thousands of extrajudicial and summary executions, massacres, enforced disappearances, internally displaced persons and other grave international crimes have been documented by the United Nations themselves in Colombia under Uribe’s presidency,” the letter read.
Also, the letter contended, Uribe “has publicly looked to reinforce Colombia’s military relationship with Israel and has developped [sic] security cooperation conventions during his mandate.”
The letter insists on Israel’s cooperation with a separate, ongoing UN Human Rights Council flotilla investigation, which has been criticized by many as blatantly anti-Israel. Israel has said it will cooperate with Ban’s flotilla probe, but has denied assistance to members of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council investigation.
The UN panel of inquiry is expected to deliver a progress report by mid-September and its final report in February 2011.