A galaxy of the world’s leading judges, justice experts and rights advocates called on Monday, March 16, for a full and impartial international investigation into war crimes perpetuated during Israel’s three-week war on the besieged Gaza Strip.
"As individuals with direct experience of international justice and reconciliation of conflict, we believe there is an important case to be made for an international investigation," the 16-strong group said in an open letter to the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council.
The signatories – including former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Irish president and current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, were "shocked to the core" by the Gaza atrocities.
"A prompt, independent and impartial investigation would provide a public record of gross violations of international humanitarian law committed and provide recommendations on how those responsible for crimes should be held to account."
More than 1,300 Palestinians, half of them women and children, were killed and 5,450 wounded in 22 days of air, land and sea Israeli attacks.
The attacks wrecked havoc on the infrastructure of the densely-populated enclave, leaving some 20,000 homes and thousands other buildings in ruins.
Amnesty International has accused Israel of "unlawful attacks," while Human Rights Watch accused it of "indiscriminate" attacks that were against the rules of law.
The leading British charity Oxfam said Israeli leaders have committed "massive and disproportionate violence… in violation of international law."
A coalition of Israeli human rights groups also demanded an international investigation into war crimes in Gaza.
In their letter, the investigators and judges stressed the need for the probe into Gaza crimes to adhere to international standards enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.
"The world must vigilantly demand respect for these standards and investigate and condemn their violations."
William A. Schabas, former member of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a signatory to the letter, said the UN Security Council could establish a commission of inquiry, as it did for Lebanon, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
"The international community must apply the same standard to Gaza as it does to other conflicts and investigate all abuses of the laws of war and human rights."
The signatories urged the UN enquiry to relay on the "greatest possible" expertise.
It must "act in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations" and "provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations."
They insisted that the probe should never be limited to investigating attacks on UN facilities.
During the three-week blitz, Israeli warplanes ravaged at least three UN schools which were sheltering Gazans made homeless by the Israeli attacks.
More than 40 people were killed by the Israeli shells on one of the schools.
The UN has already announced an inquiry into the "casualties and damage" at the organization’s property.
But the investigators and judges, backed by human rights groups such as Amnesty
and Human Rights Watch, insist this is not enough.
"The current UN inquiry is no substitute for a full investigation," Prof. Schabas said.
"It is not only the UN personnel that deserve truth and justice."