The Art of Facts

A LEGAL BLOG about Fact-finding and Armed ConflicTS

SITREP on Fact-Finding: From Gaza to Harvard

Faced with too many fact-finding related news to deal with, I decided to introduce a new section to this blog: the SITREP. It’s not out of laziness but rather to flag some important developments in this field. Each of those would deserve a thorough analysis, but I will keep that for another time.

The latest development is the publication yesterday of the Summary by the Secretary-General of the report of the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry on Gaza. I apologize for the link used as a reference but it seems to be the only website where it is available (it will be published soon as a document of the Security Council under the symbol S/2015/286). Similarly to the Board of Inquiry he created in 2009 following the Israeli operation “Cast Lead” on Gaza, after the 2014 conflict in Gaza the UNSG established this board to review and investigate incidents, “in which death or injuries occurred at, or damage was done to, United Nations premises, or in which the presence of weaponry was reported at those premises”. There are many interesting substantive and methodological elements in this summary. For example, the UN boards of inquiry are not mandated to make legal findings, unlike Human Rights Council (HRC) Commissions of Inquiry (CoI), although one may question whether fact-finding can be completely separated from legal considerations. It will also be worth looking at the factual and legal findings made by the upcoming CoI on the Gaza Conflict through a comparison exercise. A possible topic for a new Blog post, who knows…

Now you may ask, and rightly so, how on earth did I linked Gaza and Harvard?! As reports by fact-finding bodies are published almost ever month, significant attention is given to methodological questions surrounding this type of work. The OHCHR, among other initiatives as I noted here, recently published a manual aimed at guiding the methodology of HRC created CoIs and Fact-Finding Missions on International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. While this Guidance and Practice is primarily meant to serve the work of those particular bodies drawing lessons from their extensive practice, it contains principles and standards that are used by others. Coming to Harvard now, the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research has just published an Advanced Practitioner’s Handbook on Commissions of Inquiry (Monitoring, Report, Fact-Finding, MRF) that, unlike other manuals, focuses on some of the key issues faced by MRF practitioners working in the context of CoIs and the most challenging methodological issues they face: from the interplay between factual findings and legal determination to report drafting. It also provides suggestions on how to deal with those challenges. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Group of Professionals comprised of practitioners in the domain of MRF who contributed to this project. While this may disqualify me to be an objective reviewer, I recommend this handbook for those who are interested in dwelling more into some of those issues.

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