The long awaited Turkel report which examines Israel’s practice of investigating allegations of wrongdoing during armed conflict by its security personnel was published in early February 2013. The report (see original in Hebrew and an English translation) was issued by an expert Commission established by the Israeli government in June 2010 and headed by Jacob Turkel, a former judge of the Israeli Supreme Court. The Turkel Commission produced an earlier reportin January 2011 which dealt with legal aspects of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 (this report was discussed here). The second and final report of the Commission considers whether the mechanisms employed by Israel to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) attributed to members of its armed forces conform with the state’s obligations under international law.
To a large extent, the Turkel report is a response to the report of the UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report) that was published in September 2009 and looked into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza Conflict (codenamed by Israel as ‘Operation Cast Lead’). The Goldstone Report, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly, found “major structural flaws” in the Israeli military justice system responsible for handling complaints of serious wrongdoing by Israeli soldiers, and further concluded that Israel’s investigation policies do not meet the required international standards. The main concerns were the use of internal military investigations by the chain of command to examine complaints, as well as the dual role of the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG). The Fact-finding Mission was troubled that the MAG’s responsibility to provide legal advice to the military authorities creates a potential conflict of interest with the parallel responsibility to order the investigation and prosecution of unlawful actions which at times might be based on the MAG’S own legal advice.
Those issues were addressed by the Turkel Commission. Four Israeli members and two non-Israeli observers prepared the report for two years. They examined evidence provided by Israeli officials, academics and human rights NGOs, and further consulted several international law experts. The comprehensive report which analyses the duty to investigate under LOAC and the relevant Israeli practice includes a significant comparative element. To use the Commission’s own words, the report stands out in the sense that “is the result of considerable efforts to derive the main principles of international law from sources that are often vague and unclear”. It is therefore a valuable document which might have a meaningful impact beyond the concrete Israeli context.