Kidnapping is a war crime: B’Tselem

Gilad ShalitHamas has released an audio tape on which kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit says that he is need of medical attention, and criticizes the Israeli government for its “lack of interest” in getting him released. There is no doubt that it is Shalit’s voice, and observers are almost certain that he is reading a statement that has been prepared for him by his captors.

Shalit has been in captivity for exactly one year today. By kidnapping him and holding him as a bargaining chip, Hamas is in violation of international law and its leaders are guilty of war crimes. This has been recognized by the B’Tselem human rights organization, which is noted for its severe criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories:

International humanitarian law absolutely prohibits taking and holding a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands, while threatening to harm or kill the person if the demands are not met. Furthermore, hostage-taking is considered a war crime and all those involved bear individual criminal liability.

Hamas, which de-facto controls the security apparatus in the Gaza Strip, bears the responsibility to act to release Shalit immediately and unconditionally. Until he is released, those holding him must grant him humane treatment and allow representatives of the ICRC to visit him.

This applies to kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston as well. Johnston, who has been in captivity since March 12 of this year, is apparently in the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist group, although he may have originally been kidnapped by a powerful armed Gaza clan for ransom. However, it is clearly Hamas’ responsibility to get him released.

Alan Johnston in explosive beltIn a horrifying development, Johnston has been shown in a video wearing an explosive belt, which his captors threaten to detonate if an attempt is made to rescue him by force. The warning is in part addressed to Hamas, perhaps as a way to deflect responsibility for his continued captivity.

I must also mention the continued captivity of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, kidnapped by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006, in the event that triggered last summer’s war. Unfortunately, unlike Shalit and Johnston, there has been no sign of life from them.

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