Accountability for the deaths of innocent people applies to Australia too

Apr 9, 2024
Undated handout photo issued by World Central Kitchen of Lalzawmi

The death of young aid worker Zomi Frankcom in Gaza last week was a tragic reminder that we have all failed to stop this unrelenting violence against the innocent. Many Australians have been horrified that the six months war continues, because governments fail to uphold international law and even our own leaders have hidden from their obligations.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister, Penny Wong gave speeches of condolences to Zomi’s family and friends. expressing the “outrage of Australians” in phone calls to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, but their language revealed fatal flaws in the Australian Government’s response.

Telling Netanyahu that targeting a World Kitchen Aid convoy delivering food to starving Palestinians is “unacceptable “is a totally inadequate response to continuing war crimes committed daily against the people of Palestine. Indeed, many Australians find it totally “unacceptable “that the Federal Government refuses to accept any responsibility for this outrageous military violence which has killed more than 32,000 people. When will the Albanese Government face the consequences of its support for an administration that ignores international law and is being called to account by the International Court of Justice for genocide? Is the Albanese Government determined to remain a friend and ally of this leader of Israel? Does he still subscribe to the mantra “Israel has a right to defend itself “which has been used to enable the collective punishment of the Palestinian people?

The Australian Government has now appointed Air Chief Marshall Binksin to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the targeting of the World Kitchen Aid convoy, already condemned internationally as a deliberate attack and part of the Israel Defence Force strategy to restrict aid reaching starving Palestinians. It is essential that the Australian Government use this investigation to provide evidence that will be considered by International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice.

However, Anthony Albanese cannot avoid scrutiny of those Australian ministerial decisions that have led to failures in his government upholding international humanitarian law. He must also be “accountable” for his own government’s actions.

Since January 26th when the International Court of Justice determined that “genocide was plausible”, Australian civil society has been calling on the Albanese Government to recognise its responsibilities as a signatory to the Genocide Convention. Yet there has to date been no formal statement by the Attorney General and there appears to be an absolute refusal to even consider the question of complicity.

On January 18 at a press conference in the Middle East, Foreign Minister Penny Wong was asked
‘There are a significant number of Australian Israeli citizens fighting inside Gaza. Has the government sought any legal advice about their fighting if Israel has breached any international law?’ Her response “No. Anything else?”

Apparently, this significant question has never been answered and no Australian journalist has investigated just how many Australian- Israeli joint citizens could be charged with war crimes. The question has certainly been openly debated in Britain where the Foreign Minister David Cameron released the information that at least 80 British nationals were serving in the Israel Defence Force. However, this information was only released after the British Information Commissioner threatened to have the High Court hold the Foreign Office in contempt.

The British Government has been reminded of its responsibilities as a signatory to the Genocide Convention by over 600 lawyers academics and retired judges in a letter to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak

“to end through lawful means acts giving rise to a serious risk of genocide -namely to stop arming Israel while it carries out atrocities in Gaza “This letter follows a leaked recording revealing the British Government is ignoring advice of its own lawyers not to continue supplying weapons to Israel for its Gaza operations.

In the United States members of Congress and eminent lawyers and scholars are openly debating the question of genocide and how those countries supplying weapons to Israel are complicit in genocide.

Are Australian lawyers within Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs, Defence and the Attorney General’s Department providing this advice?

The Defence Minister Richard Marles tried to assure Australians that there were “no exports of weapons to Israel for many many years” However between 2015 and 2023 the Australian Government approved 322 export permits for military and dual use equipment to Israel. As recently as February 2024 the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems was awarded a $917 million contract by the Australian Department of Defence. Was this specifically approved by the minister after he gave those assurances? Will the Australian Government now cancel that contract following the example of Japanese trading giant Itochu Corp which severed ties with Elbit Systems after the International Court of Justice preliminary ruling on Israel’s actions in Gaza?

These are just some of many public policy questions that must be answered by the Albanese Government to clarify how Australia is responding to the International Court of Justice. We need a comprehensive public statement that explains to what extent Australia may risk complicity with genocide.

These essential questions remain unanswered-

When will the Albanese Government provide its official response to the International Court of Justice preliminary ruling on January 26th?

How many joint Australian-Israeli citizens have served with the Israel Defence Force in the last six months?

Which weapons manufacturing companies based in Australia supply arms to the Israel Defence Force?

What defence contracts for the provision of military and dual use equipment has the Defence Minister approved in the last six months?

The Inspector General of Intelligence has received a complaint regarding activities at Pine Gap constituting possible complicity in genocide.

Will this complaint be urgently investigated, and the report tabled in parliament in the May 2024 sitting?

Will the Australian government “pause” diplomatic relations and arms sales to Israel until a permanent two state agreement is negotiated?

 

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