Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Jan Egeland condemns Hezbollah's war crimes

Jan Egeland, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has been one of the most admirable figures involved in trying to stop the ongoing genocide in Darfur. Egeland has made continuous (though mostly unsuccessful) efforts both to help the victims and to rouse the world's conscience. And for an international civil servant, he has been unusually honest and unsparing in describing the extent of the atrocity, the culpability of those who are perpetrating it, and the inadequacy of the world's response.

According to the report below, it appears that Egeland has brought some of this same candor and moral seriousness to the Lebanese/Israeli crisis. I don't mean this as an endorsement of all his judgments. Egeland was right, though unsurprising, when he "condemned the killing and wounding of civilians by both sides." This is what one would expect from a UN humanitarian official, and it also happens to be appropriate. He also called Israel's offensive "disproportionate" and "a violation of international humanitarian law." I happen to think this is quite wrong (partly for reasons explained here and here), but it is the UN line, so perhaps it's not surprising that Egeland shares it to some degree, especially since his focus is on humanitarian relief and protecting victime of violence.

What is more rare is that Egeland sharply criticized Hezbollah as well--not indulgently or in passing, in the usual manner, but forthrightly and angrily. In the course of this campaign, Israel may or may not have committed specific acts that violated the laws of war, but Hezbollah's whole strategy is a war crime per se, as Egeland points out. And this is not only true of its indiscriminate rocketing of civilian areas in northern Israel, which even high UN officials like Kofi Annan have explicitly condemned. Many of the people who hyperventilate about Israeli "war crimes" in Lebanon do not seem to be aware that hiding behind civilians for protection against bombing--Hezbollah's standard modus operandi--is not just clever and un-sporting. It is a war crime.
The UN humanitarian chief, returning from a visit to Beirut, has accused Hizbollah of being "cowardly".
Jan Egeland blasted the group's strategy of "blending" in among Lebanese civilians, causing the deaths of hundreds. [....]
Speaking to reporters at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on his return, he slammed Hizbollah for hiding among civilians.
"Consistently, from the Hizbollah heartland, my message was that Hizbollah must stop this cowardly blending... among women and children," Mr Egeland said.
"I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this.
"I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men. [....]
I feel sure that from Hezbollah's perspective, being called cowards is much more offensive than being called war criminals. One might respond that if a group like Hezbollah isn't allowed to hide among civilians, it might as well close up shop and go out of business. I won't bother to give the obvious answer.

--Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. I notice that Norman Geras has also called attention to Egeland's statements, in a more general post on "War Crimes in Lebanon and Israel" that is well worth reading. --JW]
====================
SkyNews
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Aid Chief Blasts Hizbollah

The UN humanitarian chief, returning from a visit to Beirut, has accused Hizbollah of being "cowardly".
Jan Egeland blasted the group's strategy of "blending" in among Lebanese civilians, causing the deaths of hundreds.
In Lebanon on a mission to organise the aid effort, he toured the rubble of Beirut's bombed southern suburbs.
The area was once a Shi'ite district where Hizbollah guerrillas had their headquarters.
Mr Egelund condemned the killing and wounding of civilians by both sides.
He called Israel's offensive "disproportionate" and "a violation of international humanitarian law."
Speaking to reporters at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on his return, he slammed Hizbollah for hiding among civilians.
"Consistently, from the Hizbollah heartland, my message was that Hizbollah must stop this cowardly blending... among women and children," Mr Egeland said.
"I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this.
"I don't think anyone should be proud of having many more children and women dead than armed men.
"We need a cessation of hostilities because this is a war where civilians are paying the price," said Egeland as he headed to Israel.

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