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Watchdog: Israeli military probe of Palestinian civilian

2005-06-22 11:34:00

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Watchdog: Israeli military probe of Palestinian civilian casualties a sham
02:26 PM EDT Jun 22
AMY TEIBEL

JERUSALEM (AP) - The Israeli military's investigation of Palestinian civilian casualties is a farce and encourages soldiers to think they can act with impunity, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.

The military said there was no basis to the charge.

"All allegations claiming that innocents or terrorists had been killed as a result of the (military) opening fire in violation of official rules of engagement are thoroughly and seriously examined," the military said in a statement responding to the report.

Since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, Israeli forces have killed or seriously injured thousands of Palestinians who weren't taking part in the hostilities, Human Rights Watch said in its 126-page report. But officials have investigated fewer than five per cent of the fatal incidents to determine whether soldiers used force unlawfully, and the investigations they did conduct were found wanting by international standards of impartial inquiries, the group said.

"Most of Israel's investigations of civilian casualties have been a sham," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The government's failure to investigate the deaths of innocent civilians has created an atmosphere that encourages soldiers to think they can literally get away with murder."

The military said it had investigated more than 130 cases of soldiers opening fire against regulations. Twenty-eight indictments have resulted, including one indictment on a manslaughter charge, it said.

Six soldiers have been convicted, and one has been acquitted. The rest of the cases are being processed, the military said.

Human Rights Watch said the crux of the problem was a military justice system that relied on the questioning of soldiers to determine whether a military police investigation was warranted.

These questioning sessions don't seek or consider testimony from victims or non-military witnesses, and don't try to reconcile discrepancies between soldiers' accounts and video, medical or witness evidence, the group said.

It urged the military to set up an independent body to investigate allegations of serious human rights abuses by Israeli security forces.

The military said the questioning sessions "allow soldiers to express themselves under conditions of confidentiality, and are therefore effective and reliable tools that can be used to determine what transpired during the event."

Investigative efforts continue beyond these sessions, it said.

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