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GAZA

Former New York judge named to UN Gaza probe

Former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis was appointed on Monday to a UN commission probing Israel's Gaza offensive and the actions of Islamist militant group Hamas, the world body's Geneva-based Human Rights Council said.

The move comes after Lebanese-born British lawyer Amal Alamuddin —  Hollywood star George Clooney's fiancee — turned down her nomination citing existing professional commitments.
   
McGowan Davis is likely to prove a controversial choice for Israel, having served on a previous team that investigated a 2008-2009 offensive and whose findings were rejected by the Jewish state.
   
The UN Human Rights Council ordered the Gaza investigation last month, in the face of fierce opposition from Israel and the United States.
   
The decision came during a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the 47-nation council, where Israeli and Palestinians delegates accused the other side of war crimes.
   
The probe team was set up under a resolution lodged by Palestine, which has observer status at the council, but UN officials say its goal is to address all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Gaza, regardless of which side is involved.
   
"In carrying out its work, the Commission of Inquiry will aim to establish the facts and circumstances of human rights violations and crimes perpetrated in order to identify those responsible," the council said on Monday.
   
Israel has denounced the probe as slanted against it — echoing its criticism of previous UN investigations.
   
An acting justice on the supreme court of the state of New York from 1986 to 1998, McGowan Davis is a renowned expert on transitional justice and human rights law.
   
In 2004 and 2005, she worked in Afghanistan's public defenders' office, and has also been involved in war crimes justice projects in Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Rwanda.
   
The Gaza commission is being led by Canadian international lawyer William Schabas, and includes Doudou Diene of Senegal, who has previously served as the UN's watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast.
   
They have been tasked with reporting back to the council by March.

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UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

US admits police killings thwart civil rights

The United States acknowledged in Geneva on Monday that more needed to be done to uphold its civil rights laws following a string of recent killings of unarmed black men by police.

US admits police killings thwart civil rights
Riot police contend with demonstration over death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month. Photo: AFP

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, a US representative stressed the advances his country had made in establishing a range of civil rights laws over the past half century.
   
But referring to a long line of recent cases of alleged abuse of African Americans by police, James Cadogan, a senior counselor in the justice department's civil rights division, admitted that "we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to their promise."
   
"The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Walter Scott in South Carolina have . . . challenged us to do better and to work harder for progress," he said.
   
The United States was undergoing a so-called Universal Periodic Review of its rights record — which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
 
The US delegation, headed by US ambassador to the council Keith Harper and acting US legal advisor Mary McLeod, faced a range of questions from diplomats about law enforcement tactics, police brutality and the disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minorities.
   
The half-day review in Geneva came after the US justice department on Friday launched a federal civil rights investigation into whether police in Baltimore have systematically discriminated against residents, following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody last month.
   
Six police officers have been charged in connection with Gray's arrest and death.

One faces a second-degree murder charge.
   
Cadogan insisted Washington was intent on bringing abusive police officers to justice.
   
"When federal, state, local or tribal officials wilfully use excessive force that violates the US Constitution or federal law, we have authority to prosecute them," he said, pointing to criminal charges brought against more than 400 law enforcement officials over the past six years.
   
Also on the agenda during Monday's review was the continued use of the death penalty, and the US record on addressing its "war on terror" legacy, including Washington's failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and CIA torture revelations.
   
"As President (Barack) Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line, we did not live up to our values, and we take responsibility for that," McLeod said of the past cases of CIA torture, detailed in an explosive Senate report last December.
   
"We have since taken steps to clarify that the legal prohibition on torture applies everywhere and in all circumstances, and to ensure that the United States never resorts to the use of those harsh interrogation techniques again," she said.

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