Government shouldn’t ignore war crimes in Lebanon

Prime Minister Helen Clark and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters should be more forthright in their comments on the crisis in Lebanon, Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

“She is overlooking the war crimes being committed by Israel and Hezbollah in bombing non-military targets and killing innocent civilians.

“To date, the Government has only called Israel’s response disproportionate, and called on Hezbollah to release the captured Israeli soldiers.

“In fact, Israel has been brutally imposing collective punishment on the people of Lebanon, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, by bombing civilian neighbourhoods, destroying electricity stations and sewage treatment plants – and creating a huge refugee crisis.

“This offensive has followed in the wake of Israel’s air, land and sea attacks on densely populated areas in Gaza. At the time, those actions were condemned by Switzerland – the depository state of the Geneva accords. Whilst condemning Hezbollah’s incursion into Israel, the Swiss also warned that Israel’s reply should remain strictly proportional, and not threaten a non-hostile neighbouring state.

“If even the neutral Swiss can chide Israel, something more vigorous should be forthcoming from the Prime Minister, who has long been a supporter of international law and multilateral solutions,” Mr Locke says.

“On the evidence, Israel’s leaders could be brought before the International Criminal Court for violating the Rome Statute which expressly forbids extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity, and intentionally directing attacks against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities. Hezbollah is also guilty of violating the Rome Statute when it aims its missiles at Israeli cities.

“The Prime Minister should be defending basic humanitarian principles. Foreign Minister Winston Peters should be using his audience with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urge her to bring pressure on Israel to cease its attack on Lebanon, and to observe the canons of international law.”

“Timidity serves neither international law, nor anyone’s long term interests. As things stand, Israel’s current actions in Lebanon and Gaza will only fuel a further cycle of violence in the region, and undermine the cause of democracy in Lebanon, Gaza and the occupied West Bank.