Sunday, July 27, 2014

We previously discussed how Human Rights Watch was claiming a very restrictive definition of "human shields" contrary to the clear definition given by the ICRC, to clear Hamas of that charge.

A little further research shows that not only does HRW often use the correct definition of human shielding for other conflicts, but it has tightened up its definition over the years for Israel's enemies.

Here is Human Rights Watch, February 19, 2014, discussing a reported drone attack by US forces against a wedding in Yemen:
The legality of the December 12 attack hinges on both the applicable body of international law and the facts on the ground. If international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, applies to the December 12, 2013 attack, only valid military objectives such as AQAP leaders or fighters could have been lawfully targeted. The burden is on the attacker to take all feasible precautions to ensure that a target is a combatant before conducting an attack and to minimize civilian harm.

Had AQAP members deliberately joined the wedding procession to avoid attack they would have been committing the laws-of-war violation of using “human shields.”
In this case, HRW says that the terrorists merely need to purposefully place themselves around civilians. When Israel is the enemy, HRW says that the civilians must be coerced.

That wasn't always the case. HRW tried very hard to excuse Hezbollah from the accusation of human shielding in Lebanon in 2006, but the excuses they used - feeble as they were - do not apply to Hamas in 2014:

A key element of the humanitarian law violation of shielding is intention: the purposeful use of civilians to render military objectives immune from attack.

As noted above, we documented cases where Hezbollah stored weapons inside civilian homes or fired rockets from inside populated civilian areas. At minimum, that violated the legal duty to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians the hazards of armed conflict, and in some cases it suggests the intentional use of civilians to shield against attack. However, these cases were far less numerous than Israeli officials have suggested. The handful of cases of probable shielding that we did find does not begin to account for the civilian death toll in Lebanon. (The related issue of Hezbollah's illegally using several UN posts near the Lebanon-Israel border as shields is discussed in the next section.)

In addition to its own research, Human Rights Watch carefully reviewed local and international press accounts, IDF and Israeli government statements, and the work of various independent think tanks to evaluate allegations of human shielding by Hezbollah. While the Israeli government and certain commentators have described Hezbollah shielding as widespread, they have not provided convincing evidence to support such allegations.[111] The Israeli government provided some video footage taken from drones showing Hezbollah fighters firing rockets from what appear to be civilian structures, or entering such structures, but the footage gives no indication whether these structures were inhabited by civilians or located in then-populated areas.

The Israeli government's allegations seem to stem from an unwillingness to distinguish the prohibition against human shielding-the intentional use of civilians to shield a military objective from attack-from that against endangering the civilian population by failing to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm, and even from instances where Hezbollah conducted operations in residential areas empty of civilians. Individuals responsible for shielding can be prosecuted for war crimes; failing to fully minimize harm to civilians is not considered a violation prosecutable as a war crime.[112]

To constitute shielding, there needs to be a specific intent to use civilians to deter an attack....
HRW disingenuously gives examples of Hezbollah firing rockets from fields nearby villages and of only taking over uninhabited homes, in order to protect Hezbollah from the charge of war crimes:
While failing to take precautions to protect civilians violates humanitarian law, intentionally making use of civilians to render military forces or a place immune from attack is considered to be the more serious violation of "shielding." Because the definition of shielding incorporates the concept of intent, any individual ordering shielding would almost invariably be committing a war crime.
Well, guess what: Hamas explicitly instructed Gazans to not evacuate their homes (and UNRWA schools) in Hamas-stronghold neighborhoods when Israel warned them to. Here is the webpage of the Ministry of the Interior where they tell Gazans to ignore Israeli warnings and stay in their homes.

HRW, instead of condemning what are clearly cases of human shielding under international law and under their own definitions, is going out of its way to excuse Hamas, downplay their war crimes - and endanger Gazans. In this case we see that twice HRW changed their definition deliberately to excuse first Hezbollah and then Hamas - moving the goalposts as each terror group gets more depraved.

What kind of a "human rights" group tries so hard to excuse violations of human rights?

(NGO Monitor has documented many other examples of HRW's fluid definitions of "human shielding" to defend terrorists from the charge when Israel is involved.)

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