the Disillusioned kid: NVDA Consistent With International Law After All Admits HRW
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

NVDA Consistent With International Law After All Admits HRW

Human Rights Watch (HRW) seem to have realised how stupid their press release about Palestinian non-violent resistance (which I laid into last Thursday) was and have released the following mea culpa (via):
We regret that our press release below (“OPT: Civilians Must Not Be Used to Shield Homes Against Military Attacks”) gave many readers the impression that we were criticizing civilians for engaging in nonviolent resistance. This was not our intention. It is not the policy of the organization to criticize non-violent resistance or any other form of peaceful protest, including civilians defending their homes. Rather, our focus is on the behavior of public officials and military commanders because they have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians.

It has also become clear to us that we erred in assessing the main incident described in the press release. We said that the planned IDF attack on the house of a military commander in the Popular Resistance Committee, Muhammadwail Barud, fell within the purview of the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict. We criticized Barud for reportedly urging civilians to assemble near the house in order to prevent the attack, in apparent violation of that law. Our focus was not on the civilians who assembled, their state of mind, or their behavior (such as whether they willingly assembled or not), but on Barud for risking the lives of civilians.

We have since concluded that we were wrong, on the basis of the available evidence, to characterize the IDF’s planned destruction of the house as an act of war. If the planned attack against the house – a three-story building housing three families - was, in fact, an administrative action by the Israeli government aimed at punishing a militant for his alleged activities, the law regulating the conduct of hostilities during armed conflict would not apply and could not be violated...
While this admission is to be commended, I don't think it takes anything away from my fundamental point. Note that they would have stood by their argument had the IDF's action been an "act of war," even if all other facts were unchanged. Later in the same article they state explicitly that whether the actions of "human shields" is voluntary or not is irrelevant, provided the question arises in a situation where the "laws of war" apply. This is problematic: where does it leave the likes of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who seek to intervene non-violently in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to protect Palestinians?

It is also interesting to note, that HRW apparently see no disjuncture in juxtaposing an example where civilian women voluntarily went to aid Hamas militants cornered in a mosque after two days of fighting, with an instance when "the IDF blindfolded six civilians, including two minors, and forced them to stand in front of soldiers who took over civilian homes during a raid in northern Gaza." HRW's phrasing implies that these are in some sense comparable, which is frankly laughable. HRW seem to believe that people are not entitled, or perhaps not able, to make choices which put their own lives at risk. Such matters, they suggest implicitly, are the sole responsibility of their leaders. Hence, my original point about the denial of agency seems to be borne out.

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