Palestinians burn crossed-out posters depicting late former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as they celebrate his passing in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 11, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
Human Rights Watch issued a statement on Saturday saying late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had escaped accountability for crimes committed against Palestinians.
Sharon was announced dead earlier on Saturday after eight years in a coma.
"Ariel Sharon died without facing justice for his role in the massacres of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians by Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.
"Sharon, as Israel’s defense minister in 1982, had overall responsibility for the Israel Defense Forces, which controlled the area of the Sabra and Shatilla camps. An Israeli commission of inquiry found that he bore “personal responsibility” for the massacre and that he decided Phalangist militias “should be sent in” to the camps from September 16 to 18, despite the risk that they would massacre the civilian population there," read the statement.
The massacre took the lives of over 3,000 Palestinians.
According to HRW, in February 1982 the Kahan Commission, Israel’s official commission of inquiry investigating the events, found that the “serious consideration… that the Phalangists were liable to commit atrocities… did not concern [Sharon] in the least.” Sharon’s “disregard of the danger of a massacre” was “impossible to justify,” the commission found, and recommended his dismissal as defence minister.
He remained in the Israeli cabinet as a minister without portfolio and later became prime minister in 2001, serving until his stroke in January 2006.
In 2001, survivors of the massacre brought a case in Belgium requesting that Sharon be prosecuted under Belgium’s “universal jurisdiction” law.
The law was amended in 2003 amid political pressure, leading Belgium’s highest court to drop the case against Sharon.
“It’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatilla and other abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer.”
The statement further condemned Sharon not being held responsible over his role in expanding settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, stressing that this is "prosecutable as a war crime."
While in 2005 he ordered Israel's withdrawal of nearly 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of four West Bank settlements, during his term as prime minister, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, increased from roughly 388,000 to 461,000.
"The transfer by an occupying power of its civilians into an occupied territory is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and a potential war crime," said HRW.
Sharon also approved the building of the notorious separation wall in 2002, subjecting thousands of "Palestinians who live in areas of the West Bank between the barrier and the 1967 armistice line (the “Green Line”) to severe, discriminatory restrictions on their freedom of movement, with devastating economic and social consequences."
The statement further estimated the number of Palestinian civilians killed at the hands of Israeli forces during his term of office at more than 1,430 while 640 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians.
HRW added that hundreds of homes in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were unlawfully demolished under his rule.
“For the thousands of victims of abuses, Sharon’s passing without facing justice magnifies their tragedy,” Whitson said.