The Goldstone Report is the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) commissioned report investigating Israel’s Operation in Gaza.
The report was the result of the January 9, 2009 HRC 9th Special Session entitled “The Grave Violations of Humans Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” in response to Israel’s military operation in Gaza, The Council voted to send a mission of “experts” to assess Israel’s alleged human rights violations in Gaza. The mandate of the mission was codified on January 12, 2009 in Human Rights Council Resolution S/9-1, “The Grave Violations of Humans Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” which was adopted by a vote of 33-1-13. The mandate states that the HRC: “Decides to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission, to be appointed by the President of the Council, to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression, and calls upon Israel not to obstruct the process of investigation and to fully cooperate with the mission.”
Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a long time critic of Israel, was asked to head the fact finding mission but refused because the mandate called for the investigation of Israeli action and made no mention of Hamas violations. As she stated: “unfortunately the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that is a Human Rights approach.” Justice Richard Goldstone, a South African Jurist agreed to head the delegation, however he insisted that he would investigate “all violations of war between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009,” thereby examining action by Israel and Hamas. The president of the HRC, Nigerian Ambassador Martin Uhomoibi agreed to Goldstone’s terms: “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.” However, no official change was made to the mandate or the resolution.
The four-person mission began their investigation in May 2009 and visited Gaza twice. The State of Israel refused to cooperate with the fact finding mission, arguing that the founding mandate was biased against Israel, and that the Human Rights Council has an history of entrenched anti-Israel bias. Some Israelis, including residents of Sderot and Ashkelon who had lived under Hamas rocket fire, Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as representatives of Israeli human rights groups, travelled in their personal capacity to Geneva to testify before the members of the mission.
On September 15, 2009, the fact finding mission released its report entitled “Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” commonly referred to as the Goldstone Report.
The report accuses Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza through the deliberate and premeditated targeting of civilians and Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. While there is some discussion of Palestinian actions, including charges that Hamas violated international law as well, the focus of the report and its recommendations is primarily on Israel. The report’s focus on Israel extends to an extensive discussion on the closure of Gaza’s border, allegations of settler violence being punished too lightly by the Israeli judiciary system, discrimination in the Israeli criminal justice system, and broad issues related to Israel’s settlement policy and Israel's security barrier. It calls on Israel (and “relevant authorities in the Gaza Strip”) to launch independent investigations of these allegations within three months and for possibly further action by the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, Security Council, the International Court of Justice and the High Contracting Bodies of the Geneva Convention.
The findings of the Goldstone Report were immediately criticized by Israel, the United States, some European and other states and NGO’s.
Israel argued that the report was fundamentally wrong in that it was based on the presumption of Israeli guilt, and ascribes to Israel malicious motives and intent in its actions in Gaza. Israel also argued that the report draws broad conclusions regarding Israeli actions from select incidents, while ignoring other well-documented situations which highlight Hamas’ strategic exploitation of civilians and use of civilian institutions, including mosques, schools and hospitals, for military and terrorist purposes. In questioning Israel’s ability to examine possible abuses by IDF personnel in Gaza, the report ignores or dismisses Israel’s ongoing investigations into incidents in Gaza, as well as Israel’s independent judiciary which is well experienced with dealing with issues related to international law and the military. And, while the report and its authors purport to examine Hamas activity, it gives a false and illusory appearance of even-handedness given that the report and its recommendations overwhelmingly focus on Israel.
Other critics noted the dangerous precedent the report sets for any sovereign state engaged in asymmetrical warfare against terrorist groups operating from within urban areas who use human shields. In numerous public appearances since the report has been issued, Judge Goldstone has refused to provide possible guidelines within the framework of international law whereby a democratic state, such as Israel, would be able to take action against a terrorist entity.
Despite this international criticism, the Goldstone Report continues to progress through the United Nations system. On October 16, 2009, the Human Rights Council voted to endorse the findings and conclusions of the Goldstone Report. On March 25, 2010, the HRC passed another resolution endorsing the findings of the Goldstone Report and established a new committee to monitor the implementation of the Report by the parties.
On November 5, 2009, the General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report and recommending that it be referred to the U.N. Security Council and the contracting parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention for further consideration. The resolution called on Israel, Palestinians (Hamas and the Palestinian Authority) and Switzerland (as the depository of the Geneva Convention) to submit reports on their investigations within three months.
In January 2010, Israel submitted a comprehensive report to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon detailing Israel’s intensive process in investigating military-related incidents, and describing the 150 investigations underway into incidents which had occurred during the Gaza operation. The Secretary General reported to the General Assembly that “processes” were “ongoing” and “as such, no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned.” On February 26, the General Assembly passed another resolution calling on the parties to submit reports on their investigations within five months.
In July 2010, Israel submitted to the Secretary General its Gaza Operations Investigations: Second Update, another comprehensive report on Israel’s ongoing investigations. The update reported that 47 criminal investigation had been initiated into incidents related to the Gaza operation, which to date has led to a number of indictments and criminal charges, Other investigations have led to military disciplinary action. A number of investigations have been concluded without action taken because no violations were established. Israel also reported that consistent with its process of learning lessons from each military operation, the IDF has implemented procedures to further minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian property, as well as further limits on the use of munitions which contain white phosphorus.
Both Israeli submissions to the Secretary General have made clear that Israel did not intentionally harm civilians or Gaza’s civilian infrastructure and that any possible abuses by military personnel are being vigorously investigated and, if appropriate, indictments and the strengthening of aspects of the IDF’s military doctrine are being pursued.