ALHR calls on Stephen Smith to press for International Inquiry into Israel’s Attack on Aid Flotilla

June 5, 2010

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights President, Stephen Keim, SC, today, called on Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith and the Australian government to press strongly in international forums for a respected and independent international inquiry to be established to conduct investigations to ascertain the facts of this week’s incident involving an attack by Israeli military forces on an aid flotilla attempting to carry aid to the Gaza Strip in breach of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel.

Nine people died in the Israeli attack and many, including an Australian, were injured.

Mr. Keim said that the Israeli attack raised questions as to possible breaches of international law including the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949) and the 1994 San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.

Mr. Keim said that the Fourth Geneva Convention constrains the conduct of the military in armed conflicts not of an international character and proscribes in this context “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” It also requires that relief societies be permitted to continue their humanitarian activities.

The San Remo Manual is, in many respects, a modern equivalent to the Oxford Manual on the Laws of Naval War Governing the Relations Between Belligerents adopted by the Institute of International Law in 1913. The Manual makes provision for a state to declare and defend a blockade. However, in doing so, that state is obliged to implement the blockade impartially, issue warnings, and distinguish between civilians or other protected persons and combatants. It also requires them to ensure that methods or means of warfare are not indiscriminate and do not cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.