The Lebanese government is considering possible legal procedures to sue Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity. We speak with Lebanese parliament member Ghassan Moukheiber who is leading the charge in the case. Moukheiber is an attorney and a member of Lebanon’s parliamentary human rights committee. [includes rush transcript]
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected calls for a swift end to Israel’s air and naval blockade of Lebanon. Speaking after talks with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Olmert said the seven-week siege would only be lifted once the ceasefire terms were fully implemented.
Annan, who flew to Israel from a visit to Lebanon, has described the continuing embargo as "a humiliation and an infringement on [Lebanese] sovereignty."
Amnesty International cited the blockade in a recent report that accused Israel of committing war crimes in Lebanon. The report called for a UN investigation into whether Israel broke humanitarian law by targeting civilian infrastructure and using of cluster bombs in the month-long war.
Now, the Lebanese government is considering possible legal procedures to sue Israel for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lebanese parliament member Ghassan Moukheiber is leading the charge in the case. He is an attorney and a member of the parliamentary human rights committee. Democracy Now!’s Ana Noguiera caught up with him in Beirut.
- Ghassan Moukheiber, member of Lebanese parliament.
AMY GOODMAN: Lebanese parliament member Ghassan Moukheiber is leading the charge in the case. He’s an attorney and a member of the parliamentary human rights committee. Democracy Now!’s Ana Nogueira caught up with him in Beirut.
GHASSAN MOUKHEIBER: My committee and myself are leading the coordination of many efforts within civil society, but also within the official bodies in Lebanon, mainly to prosecute the general and the Minister of Justice, to prosecute the war crimes of Israel. For some background, for many viewers of yours, or many politicians or political analysts, war is a simple game of power. It’s the rule of power. And we would like to see that changed. Instead of the rule of power, we’d like to turn it into the power of rules. And the rules, in that sense, are the international rules that are set forth by the Geneva Conventions that put criteria and principles even for the worst actions which mankind can do, which are wars. Even wars must follow rules.
And if you look at the events, if you look at the war that has been — the war of aggression that has been waged by Israel, you would see that almost every single one of these rules of war have been broken. And the violations of the Geneva Conventions are not simple matters to be brought into reports. These are grave violations of a huge magnitude that are considered by international law as war crimes, and these are extremely dangerous and must be looked at as such by the international community.
Whatever we’re talking about are nothing else but actions that have led to more than 1,300 dead, a third of them being children; more than 4,000 wounded; one million Lebanese displaced, forcefully displaced by the Israeli Army, the Israeli aggression. We have hundreds of bridges that have been destroyed, roads, infrastructure, homes. In excess of 14,000 homes were destroyed, leveled down to the ground. There has been an unimaginable aggression against civilians. Particularly now, we still see the wounds in cluster bombs that have littered civilian areas that also are in violation of international law. The list could be very long.
However, for as much as some politicians and international diplomacy looks at the facts and tried to reach a ceasefire, which we are seeking now and are seeking to lift the blockade, we’re also looking beyond that to the acts of war that have been caused and looking at making sure that there will be no impunity of Israel in any future action. It is important that the world looks at war actions as crimes. If you kill a man, you’re brought to trial in a court of law. If you kill a thousand, this is considered a war. And a thousand man and child and women dead are almost simple numbers that you accounted on TV programs. It’s horrible.
This is why, I think, myself and many of my colleagues, mostly lawyers, but all civil rights activists, are seeking, first, to investigate properly and in a manner that will be technically sound and could be accepted in a court of law, that will be credible in a court of law, whether in an international court or any domestic court that would have jurisdiction. We are collecting all the data that relate to these war crimes. We will make sure that Israeli war criminals, whether civilian leaders or military leaders, are brought to trial.
It is not an easy task, because Israel has the fourth largest army in the world, and it has huge support within the world, but also in particular within the United States. But this is politics. What is important in whatever we’re trying to do is bring the attention back into the rules which no one, no warring faction, should ever forget, that you need to protect the civilians. Civilians should be outside of the scope of any of the war games, which politicians and warring players, such as generals and the like, are willing to wage for every or any reason that they can believe sound.
We consider that the war of Israel is not in self-defense. It has become so disproportionate that it is a war of aggression on its own merit. It has caused so many casualties that these casualties amount to war crimes. No impunity means trying Israeli war criminals within the appropriate jurisdictions.
ANA NOGUEIRA: Can you explain a little bit which jurisdictions you’re hoping to take Israel to court in and who you want to address these war crimes to, attribute them to?
GHASSAN MOUKHEIBER: It will depend on the jurisdiction. There is, indeed, the first possibility is for any injured person, any victim, can sue Israeli authorities, both individuals and the state of Israel, within national domestic laws whenever they have dual nationalities. And there have been many such casualties. A United Nations peacekeeper, a Canadian, was killed along with four others by the Israelis on the Lebanese-Israeli border for no reason. And, unfortunately, this couldn’t bring any action of the United Nations, and we know that the wife of this serviceman is suing now in Canada.
We have several other cases of Lebanese Canadians, Lebanese Americans, Lebanese French, Swiss, Italians, all these nationalities, Germans, also have been hit. Brazilian Lebanese have been killed, Kuwaitis. All these nationalities, dual nationals, can sue within their own national jurisdiction.
Now, you’re talking about families that have been totally destroyed — their houses. The full families sometimes have been totally wiped out. So we’re seeking to assist those families, both in collecting information and evidence and in providing them full legal services, and many international human rights organizations have been offering these services.
Domestic courts are one avenue for legal action. Another is the International Criminal Court, which has been recently established, that has come into operations only in the year 2002. Now, this international court has specific competence to try war crimes and war criminals. Only individuals can be tried by this international court, and we’re pushing — myself and my colleagues are wishing that the Lebanese government submits to the jurisdiction of those courts, although it had not ratified the Rome treaty, which has established the International Criminal Court.
The third court that could have jurisdiction is the International Court of Justice. However, this would also require that Israel accept the jurisdiction of this court, which we, for the time being, we do not expect is forthcoming, as we see that for as much as Israel has been evading any form of acceptance to its liability, it would keep on neglecting international law, neglecting its own responsibility under international law.
So, all these forums now are under study. Nothing is definite yet, except that we are working effectively with civil society, Lebanese and international civil society organizations, at collecting data, establishing a network of lawyers, and also making sure that the appropriate qualification of the war of Israel is done as war crimes.
ANA NOGUEIRA: If in the International Criminal Court you would have to take an individual, would it be Olmert?
AMY GOODMAN: Lebanese parliament member, Ghassan Moukheiber, leading the charge to investigate Israel for human rights abuses. He was interviewed by Democracy Now!’s Ana Nogueira in Beirut.