Source: Max Harris on behalf of those who have signed the letter.
A high-powered group of senior lawyers and members of the legal community has written to the Government urging it to back an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
The group includes 16 King’s Counsel, the dean of a law school, and a former chief human rights commissioner.
The letter says the group is “profoundly concerned” at ongoing violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) starting with the Hamas attacks on 7 October and continuing now with Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza.
The group, consisting of 76 members of the legal community, cites “considered” legal observers who note that a genocide may be unfolding in Gaza.
Frances Joychild KC, one of the signatories of the letter, says: “It is time for lawyers to speak out because the whole body of international humanitarian law is being gravely undermined. These laws developed from the learned experiences of the horrors of war and aim to protect innocent civilians. The government has a tradition of taking a lead in upholding and advocating for the strengthening of humanitarian law. Now is the time for it to step up its actions to stop the slaughter and daily atrocities happening in Gaza.”
The Government put forward a motion 10 days ago supporting “steps towards” a ceasefire, and voted for an immediate ceasefire at the United Nations last week. But the letter says the Government must “unequivocally” speak out in favour of an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
Max Harris, a barrister and signatory, says: “What is occurring in Gaza is shocking the conscience of the New Zealand public. A ceasefire is a first step towards ensuring that international law is upheld. The government needs to follow up on its actions in the last fortnight and be crystal clear that it backs an immediate, permanent ceasefire.”
The letter was sent late last week to the Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, and Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith.
– King’s Counsel are appointed based on “superior skill” and overarching “excellence” in the law:
Letter to New Zealand Government
We, the undersigned, are members of the legal community and include lawyers, King’s Counsel, academics, legal advisors, and legal researchers. Among us are those with knowledge and experience in international humanitarian law, and/or international human rights law, and/or domestic human rights law.
We are profoundly concerned that Israel’s bombardment on Gaza has involved, and continues to involve, breaches of international humanitarian law. We accept that care must be taken to verify reports and that caution needs to be exercised when drawing conclusions involving legal considerations as well as legal implications. However, there is little doubt now that there are breaches occurring on a daily basis. Credible organisations such as Human Rights Watch have documented the use of white phosphorus in a manner prohibited by international humanitarian law. Reputable voices have observed likely contraventions of international humanitarian principles of distinction, precaution, and proportionality. Considered observers have noted that acts of genocide may be unfolding, including collective punishment of the people of Gaza.
We urge New Zealand’s political leaders to clearly and unequivocally speak out for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza and denounce the likely breaches of international humanitarian law, and international human rights law. A permanent ceasefire in Gaza is warranted, including to ensure that international law is upheld. To fail to do so is to degrade the body of international law itself.
The bombardments do not represent the first breach of international humanitarian law in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and nothing in what we have said should be taken to detract from that wider context – or to diminish the tragic loss of life in and following the Hamas attacks on 7 October, which represented a violation of international law.
As members of the international legal community, it is incumbent upon New Zealand and New Zealanders to uphold international law where violations occur or those violations are imminent.
We call for respect for international humanitarian law and international law, for leaders to do more to uphold that body of law, and for a permanent ceasefire to be implemented.
While this letter was being finalised the Government put forward a motion in Parliament on 7 December calling for steps towards a ceasefire; we remain of the view that a permanent immediate ceasefire is necessary and that the New Zealand government should call for such a ceasefire and take active steps in the international community, consistent with its tradition, to advocate for the upholding of international humanitarian law.