Gaza Probe Resolution Passes in General Assembly
On Friday, February 26 there was snow storm in New York City making travel difficult, with snow one foot deep. Yet shortly after 10 am the United Nations General Assembly held its meeting to consider the resolution A.64/L.48 “Follow-up to the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (II).”
This resolution extended for five additional months the call to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to carry on iinvestigations in accord with international standards into the alleged international law violations described in the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone Report issued in September 2009, documented the results of an investigation into the possible violations of international law by Israel in its assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead from December 27, 2008 through January 18, 2009. (1) The Report also alleged violations by the Palestinians in their rocket launches on southern Israel.
The vote on the General Assembly resolution, A/64/L48 was 98 in favor, 7 opposed, 31 abstentions and 56 not voting.(2)
In November 2009, an earlier resolution gave Israel and the Palestinians three months to carry out these investigations into their own possible violations of international law. (3) The vote on this earlier resolution in November 2009 was 114 Yes, 18 No, 44 abstentions, and 16 not voting. The total vote for this 2nd resolution was lower than the November vote. This was likely due to snow storm in the New York area making it difficult for some of the delegates to get to the General Assembly meeting. Two of the delegates who arrived after the voting was closed, representing Laos and Armenia, asked that the record reflect that they would have voted in favor of the resolution.
Comparing How Security Council Members Voted in November 2009 and February 2010
Some analysis of the recent vote is illuminating. China, the one permanent member of the Security Council to vote in favor of the earlier resolution at November’s General Assembly meeting, also voted in favor of the new resolution. France and the United Kingdom, two of the permanent members of the Security Council had abstained in the November vote. In this vote, they joined China in voting in favor of the resolution. Russia had abstained in the November vote and again abstained in the recent vote. The only Security Council member to vote against the General Assembly resolution in the November vote was the United States. The United States also voted against the resolution on February 26.
In November’s vote only four of the non permanent members of the Security Council voted for the resolution. Five of these nations have since left the Security Council as their two year terms expired. They have been replaced by five newly elected non permanent members. In the February 26 vote, nine of the elected, non permanent members of the Security Council voted in favor of the General Assembly resolution. The nine non permanent members voting for the General Assembly resolution were Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Turkey, and Uganda. Of the non permanent members, surprisingly Mexico abstained in this vote, as Mexico had voted in favor of the resolution in November.
It is significant that 12 of the member nations that serve on the Security Council, in a vote in the General Assembly, voted in favor of the recent resolution. This is an encouraging sign that there are indeed members of the Security Council who are concerned about what has been happening in Gaza and that the needed investigations be conducted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This represents an important change. In the previous vote only five of the member nations on the Security Council voted to support the General Assembly resolution and nine abstained.
Will Change Reflected in GA Vote Affect Security Council Ability to Discuss Gaza?
In previous efforts to have the Security Council discuss the Goldstone Report, and the problem of the Israeli closure of the border crossings into Gaza, it was not possible to get the nine votes needed to get the discussion on the agenda. Article 27(1)of the United Nations charter states that decisions “on procedural matters shall be by an affirmative vote of nine members.” Since there is no veto on procedural matters, as long as nine votes can be gained to discuss an issue, it may at least be possible to break the silence that has prevailed at the Security Council on the issue of the Goldstone Report and the blockade of Gaza.
Secretary General Asked to Report in Five Months
It is notable that there is no request in the recent resolution that Ban Ki-moon or the Security Council monitor the actions of the parties during the five month period of the resolution. The Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly on the implementation of the November resolution resulted in his submitting reports by Israel and the Palestinians to the General Assembly with little additional substance contributed by the Secretary General to the report. The Secretary General’s report to the General Assembly contained no substantive analysis of the progress made by the parties in their investigations. Instead his report stated that from the materials received from Israel and the Palestinians, “no determination could be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned.”(4)
Goldstone Report Requested Monitoring by Expert Committees
The Goldstone Report had recommended that there be a means to monitor the progress of the investigations by Israel and the Palestinians. It recommended that the Security Council establish a committee of experts in the relevant international law to report on the legal proceedings undertaken by Israel for its investigation and that there be a similar committee of experts to monitor the investigations undertaken by the Palestinians. Such committees of experts provide a means to evaluate whether the investigations by Israel and the Palestinians fulfill the obligation to be “independent, creditable and in conformity with international standards.” Amnesty International has called on the Secretary General to establish such a body of independent experts to assess the efforts of the parties to carry out adequate investigations.(5)
World Opinion and Israel’s Obligations in Gaza
It is over a year since the Israeli assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. While progress appears to be slow, world opinion supported by the Goldstone Report is increasing that Israel be held accountable for the deaths of over 1400 Palestinians by its military assault. The action by the General Assembly on February 26 puts off Israel’s obligation to report on its internal investigation for up to an additional five months. The General Assembly, however, maintains its authority to oversee the situation and to consider further action if necessary by other United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, if Israel’s actions continue to prove unsatisfactory.
1) The Goldstone Report is available online.
2) For list of nations and how they voted, see Annex, “General Assembly Requests Secretary-General to Submit Further Report on Investigations into Violations During Gaza Conflict”, UN Press Release, February 26, 2010.
3) Ronda Hauben, Goldstone Report Transmitted to UN Security Council, OhmyNews International,11/27/2009
4) Ronda Hauben, Ban Ki-moon on Goldstone Report Progress, OhmyNews International, 2/8/2010
5) Amnesty International, “Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories: Renewed UN Call for Gaza Conflict Accountability Welcomed as Important Shift”, Amnesty International Public Statement, February 26, 2010.