A group of 16 of the world's leading war crimes investigators and judges - backed by Amnesty International - has urged the United Nations to launch a full inquiry into alleged gross violations of the laws of war committed by both sides during the recent conflict in Gaza and southern Israel.
An open letter - entitled 'Find the truth about Gaza war' - was sent to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday. The letter's signatories include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and judge Richard Goldstone, formerly Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda.
A UN inquiry is currently investigating attacks which were carried out against UN facilities and personnel in Gaza during the three-week conflict.
"The UN investigation is not sufficient as a response to the grave violations that were committed during the conflict. Hundreds of civilians were killed or injured, and it is vital that the circumstances in which they were attacked are fully investigated," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
"Those responsible for war crimes or other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses must be held to account."
"What is needed is a comprehensive international investigation that looks at all alleged violations of international law - by Israel, by Hamas and by other Palestinian armed groups involved in the conflict."
The letter's signatories - who have led investigations of crimes committed in former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Darfur, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, East Timor, Lebanon and Peru - say that they have been "shocked to the core" by events in Gaza.
They have urged world leaders "to send an unfaltering signal that the targeting of civilians during conflict is unacceptable by any party on any count."
The letter calls for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry into the Gaza conflict that:
Has a mandate to carry out a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of all allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict
Acts in accordance with the strictest international standards governing such investigations
Can provide recommendations as to the appropriate prosecution of those responsible for gross violations of the law by the relevant authorities
Prof. William A. Schabas, former member of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said: "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."