Thursday, August 04, 2022

Amnesty has different interpretations of international law for Israel in Gaza and for everywhere else

Amnesty issued a report yesterday about Ukrainian forces violating international law:
Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, as they repelled the Russian invasion that began in February, Amnesty International said today. 

Such tactics violate international humanitarian law and endanger civilians, as they turn civilian objects into military targets. The ensuing Russian strikes in populated areas have killed civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure. 
As far as I can tell, Amnesty has never said anything close to this concerning Hamas purposefully placing its rockets, tunnels, command and control centers and ammunition depots within or underneath residential areas. To be sure, they say that Hamas shouldn't do this, but they never say the (accurate) statement that placing military objects in civilian areas change the areas themselves into military targets.

Military targets are valid targets under international law. Of course, the attacker must do everything possible to minimize civilian deaths and damage, and weigh the value of the target against the expected damage to civilians. But they are not obligated to avoid attacking areas where valid military objects are just because they are placed in a civilian area.

The only time I could find the word "military targets" used in this context on an Amnesty report about Gaza was during the 2009 Gaza war, when Amnesty said nearly the opposite in regard to Israel: “Fighters on both sides must not carry out attacks from civilian areas but when they do take cover behind a civilian house or building to fire it does not make that building and its civilian inhabitants a legitimate military target. Any such attacks are unlawful.”

An Amnesty search for the words "legitimate military target" shows that it mentions that attacks on military objects embedded in civilian areas in Afghanistan, Syria, Yugoslavia and elsewhere  are legitimate as long as the attack doesn't have a  disproportionate impact on civilians. 

In every case, militants purposefully hiding themselves or their weapons in a civilian area makes the area a legitimate military target. With Israel in Gaza, it does not make make the area a legitimate military target.

Different international law standards for Israel and everyone else? That's standard operating procedure for Amnesty. 


That isn't the only double standard even in that one Amnesty Gaza document. They say there,

“Our sources in Gaza report that Israeli soldiers have entered and taken up positions in a number of Palestinian homes, forcing families to stay in a ground floor room while they use the rest of their house as a military base and sniper position,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. “This clearly increases the risk to the Palestinian families concerned and means they are effectively being used as human shields.”
But when Hamas shoots from residential areas, Amnesty does everything possible to exonerate them from the charge of human shielding:

Amnesty International is monitoring and investigating such reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to “shield” specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks. In previous conflicts Amnesty International has documented that Palestinian armed groups have stored munitions in and fired indiscriminate rockets from residential areas in the Gaza Strip in violation of international humanitarian law. Reports have also emerged during the current conflict of Hamas urging residents to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate. However, these calls may have been motivated by a desire to minimize panic and displacement, in any case, such statements are not the same as directing specific civilians to remain in their homes as “human shields” for fighters, munitions, or military equipment. Under international humanitarian law even if “human shields” are being used Israel’s obligations to protect these civilians would still apply.
Besides the obvious double standard of changing the definition of human shields, note that Amnesty believes reports of the IDF forcing residents to stay in their homes - but goes out of its way not to believe reports that Hamas demands that residents stay in their homes. 

(h/t Akiva Cohen)

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