U.N. Rights Body Condemns Israel for War

By ELIANE ENGELER
The Associated Press
Friday, August 11, 2006; 3:34 PM

GENEVA -- The U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday condemned Israel for "massive bombardment of Lebanese civilian populations" and other "systematic" human rights violations, and decided to send a commission to investigate.

European countries, Japan and Canada voted against the resolution, primarily because it lacked balance in failing to name the Hezbollah militia. The United States, which is an observer, has no vote on the 47-member council.

Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the discussions were one-sided, referring only to civilian losses in Lebanon while ignoring the deadly Hezbollah missile attacks on northern Israel.

"It is painful and regrettable that the council made a distinction between the sufferings, the blood and the deaths, and this failure will forever be written in the annals of that body," he said.

The council voted 27-11 to pass the resolution, which was proposed by the 57-country Organization of the Islamic Conference. Among those voting for the resolution were China, Russia, India, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Zambia and South Africa. Guatemala and seven other countries abstained.

Although the OIC refused to insert "Hezbollah" in the text, it amended its wording to make an indirect reference to the Lebanese militia, urging "all concerned parties to respect the rules of international humanitarian law (and) to refrain from violence against the civilian population."

Louise Arbour, the U.N.'s high commissioner for human rights, told the council it was obligated to consider violations by both sides.

"Israeli attacks affecting civilians continue unabated," she said. "Also unrelenting is Hezbollah's indiscriminate shelling of densely populated centers in northern Israel which has brought death and destruction.

"There have also been repeated allegations of Hezbollah's systematic use of civilians as human shields," she said.

It was the second time the new council has singled out Israel in emergency sessions this summer.

In a meeting July 6, the body voted 29-11 to deplore Israel's military operations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has no powers to punish countries beyond public condemnation. However, Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, warned there could be other proceedings for any war crimes.

"I remind all belligerents that war crimes and crimes against humanity may be committed even by those who believe, accurately or not, that their combat is a just one and their cause a worthy pursuit," she said.

The resolution said an inquiry commission of experts should go immediately "to investigate the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon; to examine the types of weapons used by Israel and their conformity with the international law; to assess the extent and deadly impact of Israeli attacks on human life, property, critical infrastructure and the environment."

It said the Israelis had "caused thousands of deaths and injuries, mostly among children and women, and the displacement of 1 million civilians, according to a preliminary assessment."

It also condemned "Israeli military operations in Lebanon, which constitute gross and systematic human rights violations" and "the massive bombardment of Lebanese civilian populations, especially the massacres in Qana," where 28 people were killed in a July 30 Israeli airstrike, and other Lebanese towns.

The fighting began July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. Israel responded with an air campaign and later a ground offensive. Hezbollah has fired thousands of rockets into northern Israel.

International efforts to agree on a plan for trying to end the fighting have so far failed.

The OIC, which gathered enough signatures to require Friday's meeting in Geneva, kept its focus only on Israel.

"The situation in Lebanon is appalling," said Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan, speaking for the group of Arab countries and other countries with large Muslim populations.

Lebanon Ambassador Gebran Soufan said Lebanese were being "collectively slaughtered and punished" by the Israelis.

Levanon said both Israeli and Lebanese civilians were suffering from the conflict and that Hezbollah was conducting a "vicious campaign of terror."

He said the council also should recognize as a deeper cause of the conflict the behind-the-scenes roles of Syria and Iran _ "those cowardly states which cynically seek to fight their battles through others, on foreign soil."

U.S. Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor objected to the session being held, saying it was "unhelpful and potentially counterproductive to the (U.N.) Security Council's efforts to address the complex issues involved in this conflict."

European diplomats said they tried unsuccessfully to persuade the OIC to put more balance into the resolution, which they considered one-sided.

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Associated Press writer Alexander G. Higgins contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press