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Is universal jurisdiction the way forward to end Israel’s impunity?
Francisco Rey Marcos


Proceedings could also be instigated unilaterally as was done by Belgium a few years ago against Ariel Sharon for the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The Spanish High Court recently launched a war crimes investigation into the actions of seven Israelis during a bombing by Israel in 2002 which targeted a Hamas leader and killed 14 Palestinian civilians. Such an initiative would be difficult to repeat because the case would be suspended if Israel decided to investigate the events in Israel. However, universal jurisdiction, which is not dependent on the political will of governments but on the rule of law and the independence of the justice system, would appear to be the most promising option for human rights organisations, who compile data so that Israel does not go unpunished once again.

These different initiatives have not yet been consolidated but coalitions of NGOs are beginning to appear in a number of countries. Finally, another possibility would be to go through the Israeli justice system. A group of human rights organisations recently addressed a letter to the Israeli Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, demanding that excesses committed against civilians during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ should be (re)investigated and asking for the creation of an independent and impartial investigation mechanism.

This rapid tour of the various legal options available to investigate and, if appropriate, sanction war crimes committed in Gaza, shows that, though limited, some possibilities do exist. Whether or not they are used is a question of political will.


Francisco Rey Marcos is codirector of IECAH (Institut d’Etude sur les Conflits et l’Action Humanitaire), specialist in humanitarian issues and author of several books on the subject.