Israel could be considered deserving of more blame for its actions in the Lebanon war than Hizbullah, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Thursday. Asked by the Post if there was a distinction under human rights law between missile attacks aimed at killing civilians and military strikes in which civilians are unintentionally killed, Arbour said the two could not be equated.
The second Lebanon war: JPost.com special report
"In one case you could have, for instance, a very objectionable intent - the intent to harm civilians, which is very bad - but effectively not a lot of harm is actually achieved," she said. "But how can you compare that with a case where you may not have an intent but you have recklessness [in which] civilian casualties are foreseeable? The culpability or the intent may not sound as severe, but the actual harm is catastrophic."
Arbour spoke to the Post in Tel Aviv on the tail end of a five-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The visit came on the heels of international condemnation and charges of human rights violations following an IDF strike in Beit Hanun in which 19 civilians were accidentally killed.
According to criminal law, "there is very little distinction between recklessness and intent," she said. "It is a small distinction as to whether you desire the result, or you foresee it as virtually certain and you do not care. In terms of culpability there is not a lot of difference between recklessness and intent."
Arbour indicated that this could mean that Israel was guilty of human rights violations for its actions in Lebanon.
"When you kill civilians virtually each time [in a military attack], at some point you have to ask yourself, 'Wasn't that foreseeable that so many would be killed?" she said. "That is where I think you start having to engage in the possibility that it is somewhat culpable."
Arbour was clearer when it came to Palestinian rights and the current violence between Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem Thursday night, she criticized the Palestinians for launching Kassam rockets against Israel. The use of the rockets was "in breach of international humanitarian law and their use must cease immediately," she said.
In her meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during her visit, Arbour said, she urged him to use "every legitimate means possible" to stop the rockets and to bring to justice those who launch them.
Arbour said Israel had a right to use all legal means to protect its citizens from the Kassam attacks. She said such measures should not include depriving others of their human rights.
Overall, she said, she found that the people who live here suffered from an "alarming depravation of human rights," of which "the primary victims are both Israelis and Palestinians."
Most of her meetings with members of both groups, she said, were characterized by a "profound sense of frustration and abandonment." But in looking at the two groups, she found that the lack of human rights was "particularly acute in the occupied Palestinian territory."
"I left Gaza with a sense that the right of its people to their physical integrity - their right to life - was particularly imperiled," Arbour said.
She blamed much of the human rights problem in Gaza on the "policies and practices" relating to Israel's security measures, as well as the fiscal constraints imposed on the Palestinians by Israel and the international community.
In suggesting corrective measures for the situation, Arbour focused mostly on steps Israel must take to improve life for the Palestinians.
Outside of condemning the Kassam attacks, she said little about what improvements the Palestinians must make.
The Palestinians, Arbour said, were in need of measures of redress in instances where lethal force has been used.
"It is imperative that there is a system of accountability available to Palestinians allowing for investigations, which are law-based, independent transparent and accessible," she said. In such a system, reparations should be made to the victims and the perpetrators of those violations should be held accountable, she said. Such accountability, "including personal criminal accountability," would lead to a change in the use of force, she added.
Arbour called for "freedom of movement" for Palestinians within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Gaza. She said she was particularly concerned about the lack of Palestinian access to Jerusalem.
Arbour said Israel should remove the obstacles that prevent foreign passport holders, including those of Palestinian origin, from entering the West Bank. She called on Israel to "discharge its obligation toward all individuals in Israel, including the Palestinian citizens."
Arbour said she hoped for a peaceful end to the conflict that would include the right of self-determination for both groups to live safely within internationally recognized borders.
But human rights should not be dependent on peace, she said, adding that the conflict should be redrawn through the lens of international rights.