Israel in Lebanon
The Report of the International
Commission to enquire into reported
violations of International Law by
Israel during its invasion of the Lebanon
Following upon the horrors of World War II, and the breakdown in the laws of humanity that had taken place, the nations of the world adopted, in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, the Charter ofthe United Nations. It proclaims the aims of the United Nations:
It goes on to outlaw aggression, the use of force, or the threat of the use of force. To give more effective recognition of, and protection for, human rights, the nations of the world next adopted, on 10 December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides, inter alia, that ‘if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, human rights should be protected by the rule of law’. The Declaration then proceeds to identify the rights and the protection to which each human being is entitled. Subsequently, the Rule of International Law was extended to cover these rights by two major international conventions: the United Nations Covenants for the Protection of Human Rights, 1966.
But, despite these important developments to strengthen the international rule of law, so as to conform with ‘the dictates of the public conscience’ , genocidal massacres and gross violations of human rights and of humanitarian law continued to be perpetrated by governments; many governments seemed to have lost all sense of moral and legal responsibility. Despicable crimes continued to be committed against innocent people in different parts of the world – particularly in areas of Indo-China, Latin America and Southern Africa.
By reason of power politics, and of the breakdown in the standards of public morality, the United Nations was precluded from dealing with horrendous crimes committed by governments in defiance of international law. Accordingly, the victims remained unprotected and those responsible escaped punishment. Often these dreadful deeds even remained unexposed; governments sought to conceal their criminal conduct. Thus slowly the international rule of law became eroded and the public conscience blunted. It is for these reasons that the practice grew up of setting up independent non-governmental tribunals or commissions of enquiry. They became the only form of protection available to protect the defenceless. Because of the growing force of international public opinion, such non-governmental tribunals and commissions of enquiry have acquired an important status and recognition in world affairs.
It is in these circumstances that a small group of concerned and influential persons in the United Kingdom came together in July 1982 and decided to constitute and invite an International Commission to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of Lebanon. This group then appealed for sponsors and for funds to defray the cost involved in the setting up of such a Commission. It was after these preliminary steps had been taken that I was approached by the Chairman of the Convening Committee, Mr Ernie Ross, MP, and invited to act as Chairman of this Commission of Enquiry . I agreed to accept this assignment on the strict understanding that the Commission to be appointed would consist of independent and qualified persons of standing and that there would be no attempt to interfere, in any way, with the Commission in the course of its work.
Mr Ross gave me these assurances and discussed with me the membership of the proposed Commission; the list of the members chosen and their qualifications will be found in the pages that follow this preface. They are professional men of standing in the academic world; five of the six members are lawyers from the United States, Canada, France, South Africa and Ireland. The sixth, Professor Stefan Wild, is Professor of Semitic Languages and Islamic Studies at the University of Bonn. I myself have participated in a great many enquiries of this nature.
As soon as the Commission was set up, I wrote to the Prime Minister of Israel, His Excellency Menachem Begin, on 16 August 1982, informing him of the circumstances surrounding the setting up of the Commission and its membership. In the same letter I invited the Government of Israel to be represented at the hearings ofthe Commission and to tender such evidence as it might desire to the Commission. On 26 August 1982, the Israeli Consul-General in London, Mr Sinai Rome, wrote informing me that the Government of Israel would not be able to co-operate with the Commission because they regarded the terms of reference of the Commission as being too limited and one-sided. In his letter, the Consul-General also took exception to two of the five members of the Convening Committee on the grounds that they were ‘pro-Arab and anti- Israel propagandists’. It may well be that some of the sponsors and members of the Convening Committee are sympathetic to the Arabs, as also it may well be that other sponsors are sympathetic to Israel but disapprove of the methods used by the present Israeli administration. However, it is not the sympathies of the sponsors or of the Convening Committee that really matter; it is the objectivity, independence, qualifications and standing of the members of the Commission that count. In the letter from the Israeli Consul-General, no exception was taken to any of the members of the Commission. I have myself, on at least two occasions, carried out investigations of complaints of anti-Semitism made against the Soviet Union by Jewish organisations. The fact that I carried out such investigations at the request of Zionist organisations, did not, I trust, impair my objectivity. In such cases, it is inevitably the aggrieved party that initiates the complaints that are to be investigated.
While it is proper and right that the Israeli Government should have set up a judicial Commission of Enquiry to investigate the massacres that took place in the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila on 16-18 September 1982 inclusive, it must be noted that the role of the Israeli Commission of Enquiry is limited to the massacres at Chatila and Sabra. It will also be noted that it is an investigation carried out by the party whose conduct is impugned. Having regard to the fact that the subject matter of this enquiry involves the integrity and legality of the actions of the Israeli Government, authorities and army, it is desirable that the investigation should be carried out by a tribunal or commission which is independent of the authorities of the State of Israel.
In the absence of an official United Nations international investigating authority, it is essential that in times of major crisis, independent international tribunals or commissions to investigate complaints that are made, should be set up. In this case, the invasion of the Lebanon by Israeli forces and the subsequent execution of the military policy of Israel in the
Lebanon led to many complaints of grave and most fundamental breaches of the international legal order.
The terms of reference of the International Commission were originally agreed to at the Constituting Session of the Commission held in London on 28 August 1982. These terms of reference were contained in seven questions that were formulated by the Commission. These terms of reference were arrived at before the massacres took place at the refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila in the Beirut area between the 16 and 18 September 1982. Following upon these massacres, the Commission met on 23 October 1982 and added an additional question, thus enlarging the terms of reference to eight questions. Accordingly, these eight questions, together with the concluding paragraph at the end of the eight questions, constitute the terms of reference of the Commission.
The Commission held its initial plenary meeting in London on 28 August 1982, and decided on how to proceed with its enquiry. It was realised that while it was very important that the Commission should carry out its mandate as carefully as possible, it was also important to complete the tasks of the Commission as rapidly as possible; it was decided to seek every kind of evidence available, both oral and written. The Commission, or Sub-Commissions thereof, received evidence in London, in the Lebanon, in Jordan, in Syria, in Israel, and in Oslo; particulars of the hearings of the Commission will be found in the Appendix to the Report.
Members of an Commission interviewed a wide array of observers and participants in the conflict and received much relevant documentary evidence; they visited hospitals, refugee camps and other places where the impact of the conflict was most heavily felt.
Members of the Commission had talks with prominent officials in the Lebanon, including the Prime Minister and the then Foreign Minister, and met with an array of political leaders representing the spectrum of Lebanese opinion. They also met officials of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In Israel, Commission members had an opportunity to meet with a variety of Israeli military personnel, journalists and intellectuals, who gave accounts of their participation and experiences of the war in the Lebanon. Those interviewed included Israelis who supported the Begin-Sharon policies, as well as Israelis who opposed these policies. Those met included Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Members of the Commission also visited Nablus for the purpose of meeting with Bassam Shaka, the deposed Mayor of Nab Ius. However, the members of the Commission were denied access to him by a detachment of Israeli soldiers, apparently acting on the orders of higher authority. While members of the Commission were not interfered with or hindered while in Israel, the Israeli authorities had advised Israeli citizens not to co-operate with the Commission and not to give evidence before it.
In Jordan, members of the Commission met with high officials including the Crown Prince Hassan Ali and influential Palestinian exiled personalities; in Syria, members of the Commission met with high officials and refugees.
In Oslo, public hearings had been organised by a number of Scandinavian Palestinian groups. While not involved in any way in the organisation of these public hearings, members of the Commission took advantage of the fact that a large number of potential witnesses were assembled in Oslo, to receive evidence there, independently of the public sessions which had been organised. The hearings by the Sub-Commission in Oslo were held quite independently of these public sessions.
The Commission sat in plenary session to consider evidence and its findings for eleven days. In addition, the taking of evidence occupied a total of22 days. The Commission had at its disposal the assistance of a secretarial staff and a team of researchers who undertook research in different fields of the Commission’s mandate.
I should like, in particular, to pay a special tribute to the Vice-Chairman of the Commission, Professor Richard Falk, who presided over the hearings in the Middle East, and to Dean Kader Asmal, who undertook to co-ordinate and edit the various portions of the Report. The team of researchers who were at the disposal of the members ofthe Commission made a valuable contribution to our work. Their assistance and dedication made our task much easier.
The Commission has operated under constraints involving limited time, resources and access. The Commission did not possess any subpoena or police power and it received no co-operation from the Israeli authorities.
It was impossible, for instance, to ascertain the conditions under which thousands of detainees were being held by the Israeli authorities.
Despite these constraints, the Commission is satisfied that sufficient evidence was available to enable the Commission to reach the firm conclusions that it has reached. Where the evidence is either insufficient, or less than compelling, this is indicated in the course of the Report.
The majority of the members of the Commission took the view that the actions of the Israeli authorities amounted to a form of genocide. Two members of the Commission, however, took the view that while the conduct of the Israeli authorities and armed forces did constitute grave violations of international law , these violations did not amount to the crime of genocide which requires a special intent. In any event, the eight terms of reference of the Commission did not necessitate a finding as to the issue of genocide; accordingly the Commission did not include a finding of genocide in its conclusions. However, the Commission has suggested that an authoritative international institution should be requested to examine the extent, if any, to which the policies and conduct of the Israeli Government, administration and armed forces in regard to the Palestinian people does or does not amount to the crime of genocide. The Commission also decided to include in an appendix to this Report a note of the views of the majority of the members of the Commission on this question.
I should like to avail myself of this preface to pay a tribute to the sense of public responsibility and diligence of each member of the Commission in the course of this arduous task. They are all busy professional men, with very heavy academic and professional activities. Yet, unpaid, they agreed to accept the very considerable burden which membership of the Commission involved, in order to serve the cause of justice and peace in the world. They worked unsparingly and conscientiously in the taking of evidence and in the preparation of this Report. To do this, they had to sacrifice, not only their professional commitments, but also their leisure hours and family commitments. At the conclusion of our work, I must apologise abjectly to them, their families and their friends for having been a very hard taskmaster in the course of the last few months. I also wish to extend my apologies to all the members of the Convening Committee, the Research Staff and the Secretariat, for the often impossible demands that we made on their services.
The only justification I can offer for the dictatorial demands that I made on my colleagues of the Commission, the Convening Committee, and the team of researchers, is the hope that the Report of this Commission may, in some small way, serve to prevent a recurrence of the terrible deeds which we have had to investigate.
Sean MacBride, SC Chairman, International Commission