Letters to the Editor: Irish Government must fulfil its international obligations

Legal professionals call on the Government to challenge Israel's attacks on Gaza 
Letters to the Editor: Irish Government must fulfil its international obligations

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike on the Gaza Strip on Thursday. Picture: Leo Correa/AP

We, more than 180 former and current legal professionals (barristers, solicitors, and trainees) and legal academics on or from the island of Ireland, call on the Government to continue Ireland’s proud historical legacy as a vocal member of the international community and an advocate for peace and justice, and thus to urgently exert its influence to secure an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

In this respect, we note An Taoiseach’s recent comments on the matter in an interview with Prime Time and welcome his acknowledgment that Israel is acting in breach of international law. We believe, however, that more concrete commitments are required in order for Ireland to fulfil its own international obligations.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242 which highlighted the centrality of international law to a just and lasting peace, and emphasised Israel’s obligation to withdraw from the territories it had occupied.

Despite this and many other similar UN resolutions, Israel has continued its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has laid siege in the most cruel and oppressive way to the Gaza Strip.

Regardless of any claims to self-defence on Israel’s part (the legal basis and extent of which are heavily contested), measures taken must comply with international humanitarian law and human rights law.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas fired thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, before breaching the security barrier surrounding Gaza. 

According to the latest figures released by the Israeli foreign ministry, approximately 1,200 Israelis and other nationals were killed and at least 224 hostages were seized.

In response, Israel has launched a war of unprecedented ferocity on a population of 2.3m people, half of whom are aged under 18, in a coastal strip less than half the size of Co Louth. The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza has now surpassed 11,000, at least 4,500 of whom are children. More than 100 UN aid workers and 33 journalists have been killed, with numerous hospitals and health care facilities having been bombed or destroyed.

Prominent figures in Western governments and organisations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union have given their strong and unequivocal support to Israel. US president Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have both compared Israel’s position to Ukraine defending itself against Russian aggression, and multiple European countries have banned protests in support of Palestine. Free speech in support of Palestinian rights and against the excesses of the Israeli military has come under significant repression. Now is the time for Ireland to step forward as a strong and vocal supporter of the rule of law, compliance with international law, and an end to Israeli military and settler attacks in the OPT.

As a High Contracting Party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions, Ireland is under an obligation “to respect and ensure respect” for these treaties “in all circumstances” and to exercise universal jurisdiction over grave breaches thereof. That means that Ireland must not itself violate international humanitarian law, as set out therein and that it must neither encourage, nor aid or assist its violation by others. It is also interpreted as incorporating a duty on states to do everything in their power to prevent or bring to an end any such violations of the law by other parties. That is further to Ireland’s own obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to search for and bring before its courts those alleged to have committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, including pursuant to the principle of universal jurisdiction. As a state party to the Genocide Convention, the Irish government is also required to act to prevent genocide where there is a risk of genocide occurring.

Pursuant to those obligations, we call upon the Government to urgently exert its influence to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank, and to call on Israel to ensure the urgent and adequate provision of food, fuel, medicine, and other humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and the unconditional restoration of water and electricity; the protection of medical facilities; and the facilitation of safe passage for the critically ill and those requiring treatment abroad including, where necessary, the issuance of temporary travel documents for people unable to travel on their own passports. We note with deep unease, the comments of An Taoiseach in an interview on RTÉ Radio 1 with Claire Byrne and his refusal to consider extending the protections of the Temporary Protection Directive to Palestinian nationals (as was done for Ukrainian nationals), particularly in circumstances where citizens of Israel are entitled to travel to Ireland visa-free.

We call on the Government to make every effort to give effect to the Geneva Conventions Act 1962 and to publicly remind all state parties to the 1949 Geneva Conventions of their obligation to exercise universal jurisdiction over serious war crimes.

We call on the Government to use its best endeavours to secure the urgent return of the hostages from Gaza, as well as the 2,070 Palestinians now interned without charge or trial by Israel.

We call on the Government to clearly state its support for the investigation of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court into the situation in Palestine and provide financial and other relevant support in this respect, as it has done with regard to the situation in Ukraine.

While the State of Palestine has already made a referral to the International Criminal Court, Ireland should consider whether a multi-state referral (as in the situation in Ukraine) could strengthen the efforts for accountability in the face of potential international crimes. 

Furthermore, the Government should “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide” (Article VIII). 

Consideration should also be given to submitting the matter to the International Court of Justice under Article IX in view of the erga omnes nature of the prohibition of genocide.

Names of signatories and their employment rest with the editor. Via Gary Daly, Daly Khurshid solicitors, Dublin 7

Justice is still alive

In the midst of the heartbreaking indiscriminate killing of the Palestinian people of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces, the decision of the UK Supreme Court in rejecting the UK government’s ‘cash for people’ Rwandan proposal reasserts the universal moral value of human solidarity, and gives the rest of the world faith that the principles of justice are still alive.

Brendan Butler, Drumcondra, Dublin 9

UN control of Gaza

The catastrophic situation in Gaza cannot be allowed to continue, as it has since 1948. 

The most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza have been totally disproportionate and have been in clear breach of international laws, especially the 4th Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians. The international community has so far failed to vindicate the most basic right of the Palestinian people, the right not to be killed in huge numbers. US vetoes at the UN Security Council in favour of Israel mean that the Security Council has continually failed to hold Israel to account or to work toward creating genuine peace in the Middle East.

The UN General Assembly must act now, as it is entitled and obliged to, by utilising its powers under a procedure known as the ‘uniting for peace resolution’. 

This process has been used successfully in the past including in 1956 to establish UNEF 1 in the Sinai Desert when British and French vetoes prevented the UN Security Council from acting. A substantial UN peacekeeping mission is needed immediately in Gaza to end the killing. 

Israel must not be allowed to take physical control of or to annex Gaza, as it has done with substantial parts of the Syrian Golan Heights and the Palestinian West Bank. 

The UN General Assembly must authorise a UN mission to fully take over the administration of Gaza. There are successful precedents for such UN administrations, including the UNTAES mission in East Slavonia in Croatia in 1996, and the UNTAET in East Timor in 1999 where the UN became the temporary government of these regions.

Edward Horgan, Castletroy, Limerick

Let’s vote on time

The clocks should stay at summer time all the year round for the sake of people’s mental health; it would result in a much healthier and happier nation.

Why not have a referendum and let the people have their say?

As regards England, they could do the same there and give their people a say.

This would also take an awful lot of pressure off the health service.

Democracy should allow people to voice their opinions.

Daniel Scannell, Ferrybank, Waterford

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