Colum Lynch
The Washington Post (Analysis)
September 29, 2010 - 12:00am

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to endorse the report of a U.N. fact-finding mission that accused Israeli commandos of summarily executing six passengers on a Turkish aid flotilla last May, among them a 19-year old Turkish-American dual citizen who was shot five times, including once in the face.

Upon its release last week, the 56-page report was immediately dismissed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office as "biased" and "distorted." Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon characterized the report in a radio interview as "a big lie."

The United States, the only country to vote against Wednesday's action, criticized the panel's findings as unbalanced. But a U.S. official said that Washington has asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of the Turkish-American, Furgan Dogan, and to share the findings with the U.S. government.

After the vote, a senior U.S. official faulted the Human Rights Council for rushing the creation of the panel and failing to make adequate efforts to secure Israeli cooperation. "The report's language, tone and conclusions are unbalanced," said Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

Israel has refused to allow the panel to interview Israeli witnesses, citing the Human Rights Council's history of singling out Israel for criticism while failing to hold accountable countries with checkered human rights records, including Iran, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Both Israel and the United States say they view a separate U.N. panel, established by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to review investigations into the incident by Turkey and Israel, as the primary vehicle for pursuing international accountability in the case.


The Human Rights Council established the fact-finding mission on June 2 to investigate violations of international law as a result of an Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship. The commandos, who were attacked and beaten while rappelling onto the ship's deck, killed nine passengers as they seized control.

Wednesday's resolution, introduced by members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was adopted by a vote of 30 members in the 47-nation council. Fifteen countries abstained, including all of the council's European members. One member didn't show up.

The fact-finding mission is run by a panel of three specialists: Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, a former judge with the International Criminal Court; Sir Desmond de Silva, a former chief prosecutor of the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone war crimes court; and Shanthi Dairaim, a member of the U.N. Development Program's gender equality task force. The panel's chairman, Hudson-Phillips, acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that the original mandate handed to the panel indicated "a certain bias." He said the panel rewrote the terms to "conform to absolute impartiality."

"From the evidence of passengers and analysis supplied by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, six of the deceased were the victims of summary executions," he said in the statement. "One deceased person had what is called a soft baton charge, called a bean bag, normally used for crowd control from a distance, lodged in his brain. The mission found that this was a discharge into the brain from very close range . . . suggestive of an execution type killing."

The panel report also cited forensic analysis indicating that Dogan was shot five times, including once in the face while he was lying on his back. "All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body except for the face wound, which entered the right of his nose," the report concluded. "According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point-blank range."

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. received Dogan's autopsy report from the Turkish government in July, "and we have raised the circumstances of his death multiple times with the Israeli government."

Israeli officials have declined to comment on specific allegations on the grounds that an Israeli commission is carrying out an exhaustive review of the incident.


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