South Africans who fought for Israel in war on Gaza can be prosecuted for War Crimes

November 1, 2009

The Goldstone report on last winter’s Gaza war has become something of a fixture in the media since its publication in September.

But for South Africans, it is another investigation carried out by the distinguished judge Richard Goldstone – a commission that exposed the brutality of Apartheid security forces in the early 1990s – that looms large in their minds.

That investigation, which came as South Africa moved towards democracy, gave Goldstone hero status in the country.

Now a group of South African lawyers are confident that his recent Gaza report has paved the way for a legal case that could see uncomfortable questions about the conflict asked much closer to home.

They want to investigate South African citizens who may have fought for the Israeli army during the war on Gaza in December and January, with a view to prosecuting them on South African soil for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The lawyers are representing two civic organisations, The Media Review Network and the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance. Working from a Johannesburg office, they are building a case known as the Gaza docket which seeks to bring the South African soldiers to justice for their role in the Gaza war.

The lawyers are all Muslims, but deny they are only taking on the case to defend their co-religionists.

“This is not a Muslim-Jew thing. No religion condones the killing of innocents. No religion condones the killing of 1,400 people, or the use of white phosphorus on a civilian population,” says Feroze Boda, the group’s spokesman.

More than rumours

Boda is well-versed in all 3,500 pages of the Gaza docket and says he has presented the evidence to South Africa’s police and National Prosecution Authority.

“There’s always been rumours within the community in South Africa that local South African citizens fight in the IDF, and you would attend mass meetings for example and you would have spokespersons who would say they were interrogated at a border point or in Jerusalem by Israeli soldiers and that soldier spoke Afrikaans,” he said.

But legal cases, especially ones containing such explosive allegations, need to be based on more than hearsay to succeed.

The docket relies heavily on the testimony of UN workers, human rights groups, journalists, and doctors who treated the wounded. The information was gathered by the lawyers on a fact-finding mission to Egypt and Gaza earlier this year.

It features hundreds of pages that detail the aftermath of the use of white phosphorus in urban areas, eyewitness accounts of civilian casualties, and evidence of UN schools hit by Israel during the war. Crucially, the lawyers say the docket also contains evidence that South Africans took part in the fighting.

“We’ve identified about 75 South Africans who we believe served in the IDF at one point or the other,” Boda says.

“We believe that there is prima facae evidence against all of them. We have informants from South African police stations, whose identity we are currently protecting for their safety, who have pinpointed which of their fellow South African police force reservists went to Gaza to fight in the war. We have pictorial evidence as well.”

Evidence online

The lawyers say some of their evidence can be found on public profiles on social networking sites like Facebook.

Al Jazeera logged on to Facebook and quickly found photographs of South Africans proudly showing off their stints fighting for the Israeli army.

Pictures on Facebook show South Africans in GazaPictures on Facebook show South Africans in Gaza

One 23-year-old man from Johannesburg had posted photographs that made it clear he had fought in the Gaza war. And he is not alone.

There is a dizzying array of similar photographs on the website, featuring smiling young men striking gladiatorial poses with weapons that, according to Goldstone, belonged to an army committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Beneath the pictures are captions such as: “These are the presents we sent the Gaza residents daily.”

As a signatory to the Rome Statute, South Africa could theoretically arrest and prosecute these individuals for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity – which is why lawyers like Boda are confident they can set up a war crimes court in South Africa.

They have the backing of another South African legal heavyweight, John Dugard, the former UN special rapporteur for human rights, who is acting as legal counsel to the Gaza docket team.

One of the high profile targets for the lawyers is South African-born Lieutenant Colonel David Benjamin, who served as a legal advisor in the Israeli Military Advocates Corps during the war.

Luis Moreno Ocampo, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, has signaled that he too is keen to investigate Benjamin, who gave statements to the media in January hinting that he was one of the legal masterminds behind “Operation Cast Lead”. He has since distanced himself from those remarks.

Alternative charges

Even if war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot be proven, there is another more obvious charge for South Africans who fought for Israel. A South African law, the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act, bars any citizen from fighting for a foreign force without express government permission.

South Africa’s most influential Jewish organisation, the Jewish Board of Deputies, strongly condemned the Goldstone report and has been quick to dismiss the Gaza docket.

They gave Al Jazeera a brief statement, insisting that they need time to talk to their lawyers. “While we believe that the ‘Gaza docket’ has no merit, we are investigating this further, and will provide more comment as soon as we have done so,” the statement said.

The war on Gaza may have taken place on a tiny, densely populated strip of land thousands of kilometres away, but Goldstone’s involvement in the subsequent investigations has meant that South Africa has already been touched by its repercussions.

If Feroze Boda and the other lawyers have their way, the next act in the drama of the war’s aftermath will be played out in South Africa’s courtrooms – and the Gaza docket will join the Goldstone commission as a landmark case that South Africans will remember for years to come.

Source

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Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 8:26 pm  Comments Off on South Africans who fought for Israel in war on Gaza can be prosecuted for War Crimes  
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Coping with global financial crisis

By Patrick Kagenda

October 31 2008

As the American economy struggles to recover from the credit crunch and European economies jostle with rescuing their financial institutions, subsidiary of American companies operating in Uganda are maintaining an upbeat facade, claiming they are not affected by the American economic woes.

Mr. Erick Rakama, Business development manager at DHL an American courier service provider, told The Independent that despite DHL cutting operations in USA, the action will have no effect on DHL Uganda operations. “Each country operates autonomously,” said Rakama.

Ms Poonam, the operations manager at UPS Uganda, another American courier company said the effects are strictly on the American market and not on the local markets like the Ugandan market. “We are not affected at all”, she said.

At AIG Uganda, Alex Wanjohi, AIG Uganda Managing Director said AIG Inc has decided to refocus the company on its core property and casualty insurance businesses which includes AIG Uganda Limited. This means it is business as usual for AIG South African operations where AIG Uganda falls.

“We operate autonomously and throughout the challenges faced by AIG Inc, AIG Uganda’s financial position has not been affected at all,” he said, “We have retained a very strong financial position and we continue to pay claims and write new business as usual”.

The Chief Executive of the Uganda Securities exchange, Mr Simon Rutega, said the lack of confidence in financial markets poses a potential for turmoil.

“In the short run the global credit crunch may not affect Uganda because our securities, our companies and our economies have no direct correlation,” he said, “We are not entangled with those markets despite the remittances coming from those economies, however the effect would be in the long run if this problem progresses.”

Uganda exports mainly primary commodities.

He said there could be a reduction in donor aid and support to social services.

“We have also learned that we have to be careful with these derivatives so, we have to verify whether those instruments are effective or not,” he said.

Experts continue to echo Rutega’s claim that African stock exchanges are insulated from the financial turmoil because of their limited links to the global economy.

“All of Africa represents only one percent of global trade,” Willy Ontsia, head of the Central Africa Stock and Shares Market (BVMAC) in Libreville said;

“If the crisis is short, its impact on Africa and emerging market economies will be relatively weak.”

“But if the crisis is prolonged, that will have an impact on several indicators that affect growth in developing countries,” he said, noting that a global slowdown would affect trade in raw materials — the backbone of many of the continent’s economies.

“Africa is less exposed because of its limited links to the international financial community… but I have reason to worry about the economic effects of the financial crisis on the continent,” said Donald Kaberuka, head of the African Development Bank (ADB).

“It’s the long-term effects that cause us great worry,” he told a press conference in Tunis.

But World Bank President Robert Zoellick last week said that developing nations may be at “a tipping point”.

“We have seen the dark side of global connectedness,” he said as the turmoil battered markets from Cairo to Johannesburg, posing risks to foreign investment and trade that could threaten Africa’s recent economic gains.

Some economists insist that the financial crisis will hit poor and rich countries the same “because there is no decoupling between their performances”.

Due to differences in their starting situations, the outcome will be different and growth in developing economies will slow but not so much as in advanced countries as their trade and capital accounts suffer.

Egypt’s main index plunged more than 16 percent at one point last week, mirroring spectacular losses around the world amid worries about European banks and doubts about the 700 billion dollar US bailout package.

The main index in South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, fell by seven percent but stabilised with trading in marginally positive territory.

Other key markets, including oil-exporter Nigeria and Morocco, suffered far less dramatic declines, while some bourses in countries like Ivory Coast have actually posted small gains.

Economies like South Africa, which are more connected to international finance, are more easily affected by the global turmoil, seen in the volatility on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, said Razia Khan of Standard Charter Bank in London.

“For the rest of Africa, the global financial market rout is likely to mean a rise in risk aversion,” she said, warning that international investors were likely to seek stability rather than the risks posed by emerging markets.

Daniel Makina, a risk management expert at the University of South Africa, said those indirect effects could prove just as damaging for African economies, especially if exports to the rest of the world slow down.

“South Africa does a lot of trade with US and Europe especially,” Makina told AFP. “A recession in the US and Europe will impact on South Africa exports.”

Crude oil accounts for more than 50 percent of Africa’s exports, with Angola and Nigeria the biggest producers, according to the World Bank.

Worries that weak global growth will reduce demand for fuel have already sent oil prices tumbling to eight-month lows.

“All these things have ripple effects that could hurt growth,” Ontsia said. “Our fear is that this crisis will continue.”

  • Due to a general shortage of credit, poor countries will increasingly find it difficult to access finance.
  • Inflation, which is the main problem for the poor, could be reduced.
  • General re-pricing of risk due to the crisis will increase the cost of borrowing
  • Economies that depend on exports will be most impacted, especially due to a softening in commodity prices

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Published in: on November 1, 2008 at 5:51 am  Comments Off on Coping with global financial crisis  
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