Green Party MP Keith Locke condemned the decision this week by Attorney-General Michael Cullen to issue a permanent stay of the court proceedings that were already under way in Auckland against former Israeli military Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon.
“The effect of the Attorney-General’s intervention has been that someone facing serious charges that they have violated the Geneva Convention have now escaped having those charges tested in court,” Mr Locke says.
“In the United Kingdom, criminal proceedings have been issued against Ya’alon with respect to his role in the assassination of Palestinian military leader Salah Shehadeh in 2002 – which involved dropping a one ton bomb on a populated area in Gaza, killing 15 civilians, eight of them children.
“It is a violation of the Geneva Convention to treat civilians as military targets, unless they are actively engaged at the time in bearing arms against the occupying force. Obviously, those children were not.
“A civil suit was also filed in the US courts against Ya’alon in December 2005 for his role in the shelling of the U.N. compound at Qana in Lebanon in 1996, which killed more than 100 civilians. On Monday of this week in Auckland, District Court Judge Avinash Deobhakta issued a warrant for Ya’alon’s arrest, on grounds that a ‘prima facie’ case existed that he had contravened the Geneva Convention.
“During the Auckland hearing, the judge ruled that the Attorney-General’s permission was not necessary for the warrant to be served, though his permission would be needed for the prosecution to ultimately proceed. The police chose to consult the Crown Law Office — and the Attorney-General then issued a permanent stay of proceedings. Those powers are normally exercised only to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
“The Attorney-General’s intrusion has enabled Mr Ya’alon to evade justice and leave the country. New Zealand likes to portray itself as an honest broker in the Middle East. This episode shows it is less interested in justice for the Palestinians than in avoiding a diplomatic row with Israel, in the wake of the recent incident with the Mossad spies.
“I am concerned about the apparent willingness of the Attorney-General to over-ride court processes in this case, for what seem to be political reasons,” Mr Locke says.
“Michael Cullen’s action indicates that a double standard exists with the war on terrorism. If a Palestinian military commander facing legal proceedings in the UK and USA was facing arrest here, I doubt he would be treated in the same way – with the Attorney-General helping him to evade arrest, and flee the country.”