Open a Shipping Lane to Gaza

Download letter to the UN Human Rights Commissioner: RebuildingAllianceUNCertificationRequest

March 29, 2011

High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay
c/o Mr. James Turpin, Human Rights Officer
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
New York Office, DC1-0504A
One United Nations Plaza, New York

Dear High Commissioner Pillay,

In December of 2010, my colleague and I met with Mr. James Turpin to discuss the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. My organization, the Rebuilding Alliance, was the only U.S. non-governmental organization (“NGO”) to place much-needed humanitarian cargo (schools supplies and cement for specific NGO projects) on the Free Gaza Flotilla. We worked hard, along with the Free Gaza team, to assist the entry of these materials into Gaza.  The international fact-finding mission report, although impressively thorough and comprehensive, failed to adequately address how to safeguard the next international flotilla, now being planned for May of this year. I am writing to request the assistance of your office in securing the safe passage of the May flotilla’s passengers, cargo and vessels, in the hopes that we may avoid another unnecessary tragedy.

I believe that a program in place ahead of the flotilla’s deployment could help explain the humanitarian aim of the mission and would reduce tensions. To preempt arguments that flotilla cargo will be used to supply Hamas or smuggle weapons, I ask your office to work with the International Maritime Organization (“IMO”) to create an independent certification team to assure transparency for a) passenger transit, b) delivery of the Flotilla cargo, and c) its use by Gaza’s NGOs.

If your office is willing to work with the IMO to facilitate the provision of credible, independent, third party certification of these ships and their cargo, such certification for safe passage will also serve as the basis for opening a two-way shipping lane to Gaza. To best achieve this aim, I also strongly recommend certification of the recipient NGOs in Gaza, because this strengthens both the argument for safe-passage
of ships and the position of the NGOs in Gaza.

The independent certification team should work with the Palestinian Network of NGOs (“PNGO”) in Gaza, as well as with the Gaza Flotilla Coordinating Committee, to receive and publish:

  • Clear bills of lading, inspected and certified at ports of departure;
  • A list of passengers, including a short description of their background;
  • A good plan for unloading cargo ships and insuring secure storage upon arrival in Gaza port;
  • A list of Palestinian NGO projects requiring humanitarian aid cargo;
  • An inspection process that will certify that materials are used as stated; and
  • Export inspection and bills of lading for products to be shipped out from Gaza.

The independent certification team should go to Gaza to meet with Gaza’s NGO to understand their needs, liaise with the Hamas government to ensure understanding and respect for the storage and planned use of the humanitarian cargo (including any rebuilding equipment), and staff a team in Gaza to provide inspection of humanitarian cargo storage and installation at NGO project sites.

I sincerely hope certification will make the next flotilla safer for everyone involved. I believe this proposed level of transparency will air the unheard stories of Gaza’s NGO community, maximize support for the Flotilla, increase diplomatic engagement, and assure the normal rules of sea-trade. These efforts will help open a NGO shipping lane to Gaza and facilitate an end to the illegal blockade.
Please let me know if your office will support my request to establish an independent international certification team for sea-aid to Gaza and assist in this effort. Please also forward my letter to the IMO for their consideration. I would like to set a time to talk by phone to answer questions and discuss next steps. I eagerly await your reply.

Donna Baranski-Walker
Founder and Executive Director

CC: Mr. John Ging, Director of Coordination and Response Division
U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Professor Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Mr. Alon Sachar, U.S. State Department
Ms. Niamh Moloughney, Member of the Steering Committee, Free Gaza Movement