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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Human Rights Watch cancels report release press conference

Human Rights Watch has canceled a press conference that was to be held tomorrow at the Beirut Crowne Plaza hotel in conjunction with the release of a report accusing Hezbullah of war crimes for targeting Israeli civilians in last summer's war.
Human Rights Watch today canceled a news conference planned for Thursday, August 30, 2007 in Beirut, citing reports by Hezbollah-controlled media about planned demonstrations to prevent the scheduled event at the Crowne Plaza hotel, and the hotel’s decision to disallow the news conference.

Human Rights Watch had called the news conference to release “Civilians Under Assault: Hezbollah's Rocket Attacks on Israel in the 2006 War,” a new 128-page report criticizing Hezbollah for its conduct during the 2006 war with Israel, in particular Hezbollah’s practice of deliberately and indiscriminately firing rockets toward Israeli civilian areas.

Hezbollah is trying to silence criticism of its conduct during the 2006 war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “But the fairness and accuracy of our reporting will speak for themselves, whether we hold a press conference or not.”

This report is one of a series by Human Rights Watch examining compliance of parties to the 2006 war with international humanitarian law. On September 6, Human Rights Watch is releasing in Jerusalem a report critical of Israel’s conduct in its attacks on Lebanon, a comprehensive follow-up to a report released during the war, titled “Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon”.

“Our focus is on the protection of civilians wherever they may be, and not about taking sides in a conflict,” said Whitson.

In the course of preparing the report, Human Rights Watch repeatedly sought meetings with Hezbollah officials and solicited information in writing from them, with no substantive response. But starting on August 28, 2007 the Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar television station and website www.almanar.com.lb ran repeated stories criticizing Human Rights Watch for its planned news conference and reporting that Lebanese organizations were mobilizing to “prevent” the news conference.

Al-Manar television and www.almanar.com.lb falsely stated that Human Rights Watch had been assisted by unspecified Lebanese parties in preparing the news conference. It refused repeated requests to provide Human Rights Watch an opportunity to present its report and respond to the accusations. Due to security concerns following the decision of the hotel where the conference was planned to cancel the venue, Human Rights Watch has decided not to relocate Thursday's news conference and to publish the report for immediate release.
The following is an excerpt of the Report's summary:
Hezbollah forces in Lebanon fired thousands of rockets into Israel, causing civilian casualties and damage to civilian structures. Hezbollah’s means of attack relied on unguided weapons that had no capacity to hit military targets with any precision. It repeatedly bombarded cities, towns, and villages without any apparent effort to distinguish between civilians and military objectives. In doing so, Hezbollah, as a party to an armed conflict governed by international humanitarian law, violated fundamental prohibitions against deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.


Rockets killed and injured Israelis in their homes and workplaces, and on the streets of villages and cities. Rockets struck hospitals in Nahariya, Safed, and Mazra, an elementary school in Kiryat Yam, and a post office in Haifa. Such attacks on civilians and civilian structures were often the foreseeable consequence of Hezbollah’s attacks, and, as its statements indicate, were at times intended.


Hezbollah rockets repeatedly hit populated areas in Israel. In some of those cases, we could find no evidence there had been a legitimate military target in the vicinity at the time of the attack, suggesting it was a deliberate attack on civilians. In other cases, we found that there had been a military object in the vicinity but, even assuming Hezbollah had been intending to hit the military target instead of civilians, the unguided rockets it used was incapable of distinguishing between the two. At the time of attack, Hezbollah also failed to take all feasible precautions to minimize loss of civilian life, such as by issuing “effective advance warning . . . of attacks which may affect the civilian population.”2
I'm kind of surprised that Hezbullah is suddenly so concerned with its image as a human rights violator.


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