Report of the fact-finding
investigation relating to the
abduction of three Israeli soldiers on 7 October 2000
and subsequent relevant events
1. The Secretary-General decided on 6 July 2001 to launch an internal investigation into the facts surrounding the videotape taken on 8 October 2000 by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) after the abduction on the previous day, across the "Blue Line," of three Israeli Defence Force soldiers by Hizbollah. The investigation was tasked with examining the subsequent handling of the videotape and exchanges with the Israeli Government. (The full terms of reference of the investigation appear as Annex 1).
2. The Secretary-General subsequently asked Mr. Joseph Connor, Under-Secretary-General for Management, to head this internal investigation.
METHODOLOGY OF THE INVESTIGATION
3. A small team of officials from various departments was assembled. The team's composition is set out in Annex 2. The team divided into two groups: one team travelled to the UNIFIL operational area and Ghana, while the second remained in New York. Written questions were sent through the Indian Permanent Mission in New York to Indian peacekeepers that had been part of the Indian Battalion at the time of the abduction. A response was received on 27 July. It was agreed to receive a submission from the Government of Israel and to extend an invitation for a similar paper to the Government of Lebanon: the latter declined. A letter was received from the Government of Israel on 29 July 2001.
4. The team, both at Headquarters and in the field, conducted interviews with civilian and military personnel and consulted daily, weekly and monthly situation reports; code cables; notes to the file; memoranda of conversations; internal memoranda; videotapes and photographs; computer records, and other forms of communication available to the team as at 1 August 2001. This report should be read within the limits of this methodology.
SITUATION PRIOR TO 7 OCTOBER 2000
5. The situation in the UNIFIL area of operations from the end of July until early October was generally calm, except for numerous minor violations of the line of withdrawal, the so-called Blue Line. UNIFIL monitored the area through ground and air patrols and a network of observation posts. UNIFIL's mission had recently changed to monitoring the Blue Line. UNIFIL comprised six battalions, four support elements and some 50 military observers of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL).
6. At the end of July and in early August 2000, UNIFIL redeployed southwards to the Blue Line after the withdrawal of the Israeli army. The redeployment proceeded smoothly, with the Lebanese authorities assisting in securing land and premises for new positions.
EVENTS OF 7 OCTOBER 2000
7. Early on Saturday morning, 7 October, military observers of OGL noticed several vacant Hizbollah positions in their patrol area. At about 1200 hours, approximately 500 demonstrators, waving Palestinian flags and throwing stones at the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), tried to cross the border from Lebanon to Israel near Marwahin, several kilometers from the abduction site. Israeli troops opened fire across the Blue Line, killing three and injuring some twenty demonstrators.
8. At about 1300 hours, other reports came into UNIFIL that Hizbollah were vacating its positions along the Blue Line.
9. At 1335 hours, an Israeli army jeep, carrying three soldiers (Benny Avraham, Omar Swaid and Adi Avitan) arrived at an Israeli border gate, the Shebaa Pond Road Gate, located about three kilometers south of Shebaa village. The jeep was carrying out a regular routine inspection of the gate. Two loud explosions and some small arms fire were heard and a smoke screen was seen in the area. Heavy mortar and rocket fire1 was targeted on six Israeli positions in the area. When the smoke cleared, it was observed by the Indian Battalion that the IDF jeep was on fire and two vehicles parked earlier near the location had left the area. A Hizbollah position near this area had also been vacated. A UNIFIL observation post was located about 400 meters from the gate. In accordance with standard operating procedures, UNIFIL observers moved into their bunkers when the firing started2. The weather conditions were fine and sunny, with a light wind from the west: visibility was good.
10. The IDF notified UNIFIL two hours later that three soldiers had been captured by armed elements. During the same period, UNIFIL noted that four IDF jeeps arrived at the scene of the abduction and soldiers searched the area of the positions vacated earlier by Hizbollah. An Israeli tank and four more jeeps arrived later. Two Israeli jets crossed into Lebanon. IDF helicopters and tanks fired across the Blue Line at a convoy of vehicles and into an unknown location in the northern area of the Indian Battalion.
11. At 1810 hours, Lebanese civilians requested assistance from UNIFIL to rescue casualties from the convoy fired on by the helicopters. While UNIFIL was examining the area of the village where the damage had taken place, Israeli mortar shells impacted close to UNIFIL personnel. A UNIFIL peacekeeper and some civilians sustained injuries.
12. Two hours later, two vehicles, about 100 meters apart, were discovered by a UNIFIL patrol at the side of the road, near Kafar Hamam, approximately seven kilometers from the scene of the abduction. UNIFIL troops posted a guard on them. The vehicles were a white Nissan Pathfinder, which had been in an accident, and a dark blue Range Rover. Neither was a United Nations vehicle. Both vehicles' engines were running. Two imitation UNIFIL number plates, a UN flag, a false antennae and United Nations stickers were found inside the Nissan Pathfinder. Among other items in the vehicle were United Nations uniforms, overalls, and berets, AK magazines, civilian clothing and a radio set. A rucksack and radio set were seen inside the Range Rover and a full AK magazine was recovered nearby. Three explosive devices were observed in the car. The presence of blood was observed in the rear of the vehicle.
13. A Lebanese army officer, who arrived on the scene later in the day, told UNIFIL that he had instructions to take charge of the vehicles. A private businessman also requested release of the vehicles. UNIFIL refused both requests.
14. The Deputy Force Commander, General Athmanathan, gave instructions to recover the vehicles and for a videotape to be made of the recovery. The Indian Battalion posted a guard on the vehicles overnight.
15. The Force Commander, General Obeng, notified senior Secretariat officials in New York of the abduction. Meanwhile, the Israeli Permanent Representative wrote to the President of the Security Council about the incident and called on the Council to secure the release of the Israeli soldiers. The Secretary-General, who had previously been asked to brief the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, mentioned the abduction incident in his briefing and also told the Council that he had been in contact with leaders in the region and had instructed his Personal Representative, Mr. Knutsson, to return to the region. The Council issued a press statement in which its members expressed grave concern over the escalating tensions and acts of violence and asked all parties to exercise the utmost restraint.
16. Sheik Nasrallah, Hizbollah's Secretary General, in a public statement, released that evening, confirmed that his organization had captured the three Israeli soldiers and that they were intended to be exchanged for 19 Lebanese prisoners being held by Israel.
EVENTS OF 8 OCTOBER 2000
17. Early on Sunday, 8 October, a vehicle recovery operation was mounted by UNIFIL. The recovery team included Indian Battalion personnel, military observers and demolition experts. The explosive devices from the Range Rover were destroyed. A soldier of the Indian Battalion filmed the location and contents of the vehicles using videotape. An OGL officer took digital and 35mm photographs of the site and the vehicles. An unknown civilian cameraman also appeared later with a video camera and apparently his presence was not questioned by UNIFIL personnel. The contents of the Nissan Pathfinder were removed from the vehicle, photographed and catalogued. A similar process occurred at the scene of the Range Rover. Over fifty different types of items were removed by the Indian Battalion and OGL and stored at UNIFIL Headquarters in Naqoura. It was confirmed that neither vehicle was a United Nations vehicle.
18. As UNIFIL was towing the vehicles to the Indian sector base for further investigation, armed Hizbollah personnel stopped the convoy and demanded that the vehicles be handed over. The convoy was detained for over one hour. Under instruction from the Force Commander, the recovered vehicles were handed over to Hizbollah in order to defuse an armed confrontation and possible loss of life. The handing over was videotaped by the Indian Battalion. There is no mention of the recovery or the videotape in UNIFIL's daily situation report of 8 October, although various peacekeepers wrote several reports on both aspects. Senior officers from UNIFIL and UNTSO travelled from Naqoura to the recovery site to follow up on the incidents.
19. The videotape was taken to Naqoura by the Deputy Force Commander on 8 October and was viewed by the Force Commander and other senior staff the next day. General Obeng spoke to the Director of Asia and Middle East Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Hutter, about the abduction of the Israeli soldiers, the United Nations items recovered and the surrender of the vehicles. He also mentioned that the events were captured on videotape. The Director does not recall mention of a videotape during this conversation. Following their discussions, General Obeng gave instructions for the safekeeping of all items, including the videotape . There is no mention of the videotape in any written communication from UNIFIL to Headquarters until 9 July 2001.
EVENTS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE ABDUCTION
20. Mr. Knutsson met the President of Lebanon and the Secretary General of Hizbollah in Beirut on 9 October 2000. He expressed his concerns about the violent events of 7 October and the use of United Nations items and called for Lebanese forces urgently to be deployed in the south of Lebanon.
21. On 9 October, the Force Commander requested his deputy to prepare an analysis of the operation by Hizbollah to kidnap the Israel soldiers. General Athmanathan submitted this operational report the same day. General Obeng used it as a basis for preparing a subsequent report to Headquarters. However, the Deputy Force Commander's report did conclude that the quantity of blood found in the cars made it likely that the occupants "may have been badly injured and may succumb to their injuries". Such an assessment was not linked to the videotape at that time and no reassessment of the Indian Battalion videotape was made. This report was not communicated to Headquarters in New York or to the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr. Roed-Larsen, or to Mr. Knutsson in Lebanon.
22. The Secretary-General met the Israeli Prime Minister and the Lebanese President on 10 and 11 October, respectively. During the Secretary-General's meeting with the President of Lebanon, Mr. Knutsson, who also attended, informed the President about the abduction and its aftermath. The Secretary-General told the Lebanese President that the abduction of the three Israelis was a violation of Security Council resolution 425/78.
23. Two OGL officers made print photographs from the 35mm film shot at the site of the recovery of the vehicles. In accordance with UNTSO standard operating procedures, these materials, reports, etc., were forwarded to the Chief of Operations of UNIFIL, the negatives shredded and the computer records deleted for reasons of security.
24. Armaments were found near abandoned Hizbollah positions by a UNIFIL patrol on 11 October. These weapons and ammunition were recovered on 12 October and loaded onto trucks to be destroyed later. The UNIFIL patrol was, however, prevented from leaving the scene by Hizbollah fighters who unloaded the ammunition from the UNIFIL trucks. During the incident, the leader of the Hizbollah group aimed and cocked his weapon at a UNIFIL peacekeeper. The Force Commander formally protested this incident in a meeting with Lebanese General Tfaili on 19 October.
25. General Obeng met IDF liaison officer General Arditi on 11 October and indicated that he had no definite information about the soldiers' condition. He provided two still photographs from those taken by the OGL military observers at the recovery site on 8 October to the Israeli General. According to General Obeng, General Arditi agreed that the IDF had made operational and tactical errors. General Arditi also asked about reports that UNIFIL vehicles, uniforms and equipment had been used in the abduction. The Force Commander replied that some United Nations items had been recovered but that there was no proof that any of the recovered items had been used during the incident. He added that the possession of these items was itself illegal and against international conventions. General Arditi asked if there were bloodstains in the vehicles. General Obeng confirmed that there were. General Arditi also asked about the two vehicles recovered by UNIFIL and handed over to Hizbollah. General Obeng replied that since the vehicles were not United Nations vehicles, and since UNIFIL had recovered all United Nations equipment (both real and simulated), there was no point in risking the lives of UNIFIL troops in a confrontation with Hizbollah.
26. Subsequently, between 10 and 13 October, a UNIFIL senior official conveyed to Israeli liaison personnel further general information available to UNIFIL on the incident.
27. On 13 October, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York (DPKO), meeting at senior level, discussed the abduction and recovery operation as part of a discussion of the future size and role of UNIFIL. DPKO agreed that the abduction was a serious incident that had interrupted the calm that had prevailed in southern Lebanon. It also considered that finding United Nations items in the vehicles was serious and would need to be discussed with the Lebanese Government and Hizbollah. Concern was also expressed that a small group of Hizbollah personnel had relieved a larger UNIFIL force of the two vehicles. There was no discussion of a videotape or any filming of the incident or indeed of other operational aspects relating to the recovery process itself.
28. On 13 November, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (USG/DPKO), Mr. Guéhenno, met the Israeli Permanent Representative in New York. The meeting discussed the Blue Line, especially the area known as Ghajar. There was no discussion about the abduction or recovery incidents.
29. Mr. Knutsson and General Obeng met senior Israeli defence and diplomatic representatives on 13 and 14 November. The discussion focused on Israel's concern about the alleged use by Hizbollah of UNIFIL equipment. Mr. Knutsson and General Obeng noted that UNIFIL had undertaken a full investigation of the matter and had concluded that, despite possible intent by Hizbollah, the recovered United Nations items had apparently not been used in the kidnapping of the three Israelis. The Israeli Chief of Operations insisted, without further elaboration, that the IDF had "good reason to believe" that the items had been used.
30. On 15 November, the UNIFIL Chief Liaison Officer responded to an inquiry by the IDF liaison office and indicated that UNIFIL had conducted a thorough investigation. UNIFIL had also publicly acknowledged the existence of blood stains in the Range Rover but had no means of determining the type and quantity of the blood. He added that there was no additional information or a UNIFIL report on the matter.
31. On 27 November, the IDF showed the Force Commander a videotape clip of UNIFIL recovery trucks towing the two vehicles on 8 October. The IDF had obtained the videotape from a documentary shown on Syrian television in November. General Arditi asked if UNIFIL had obtained any further information on the Israeli soldiers: General Obeng replied that it had not. A number of other matters unrelated to the abduction were also discussed.
32. In December, the Indian Battalion rotated its personnel in Lebanon.
33. On 4 December, the Force Commander reported to Headquarters that the Israeli Army was harshly critical of UNIFIL, accusing it of indirectly helping Hizbollah.
DEVELOPMENTS IN EARLY 2001
34. On 2 March, the Israeli Permanent Representative wrote to the Secretary-General, expressing dismay about UNIFIL's response in the aftermath of the abduction. The letter also regretted that UNIFIL had not been sufficiently forthcoming with information that could shed light on the circumstances surrounding the abduction and the condition of the soldiers.
35. In the view of DPKO, the Israeli letter contained a number of discrepancies that needed to be clarified by the Force Commander. Mr. Hutter discussed the matter with General Obeng in mid-March. The Director recalls that he first became aware of the existence and content of the 8 October videotape between 8 and 10 March during the course of a discussion with the Force Commander. In General Obeng's assessment, the videotape cast no light on the condition of the three Israeli soldiers. He felt that it was not compatible with UNIFIL's role to share material that might have intelligence value for any party to the conflict. The Director agreed with this assessment and indicated that the videotape did not need to be sent to Headquarters. Mr. Hutter did not attach any special significance to a videotape as a separate form of reporting, but viewed it as supplementary to written reports.
36. On 12 March, the Israeli Deputy Permanent Representative met Mr. Hutter and the Desk Officer for UNIFIL matters. The Deputy Permanent Representative was informed that the United Nations considered Hizbollah's attack as a serious violation of resolution 425/78 and had formally protested the use of United Nations items in the vehicles. The United Nations had to be careful about sharing information relating to the abduction that could be seen as having military intelligence value. The IDF had received all information relevant to the abduction that was in the possession of the United Nations: the United Nations had no further information that could shed light on the condition of the soldiers.
37. Mr. Guéhenno formally replied to the Israeli Permanent Representative on 14 March along the same lines.
38. On 1 May, the Secretary-General met the family members of the Israeli abductees in New York. Also on 1 May, Mr. Hutter and the DPKO Desk Officer for UNIFIL matters met IDF Colonel Zarka, who asked that the United Nations turn over any information, "specifically any film or other documentary evidence that could be of any use in determining the fate of the IDF soldiers". Colonel Zarka also showed a number of photographs of the site of the abduction and the damaged vehicle in which the Israeli soldiers had been travelling. The Director replied that UNIFIL had provided everything that could shed light on the condition of the soldiers. He added that "this did not mean that every last item had necessarily been made available" since "UNIFIL had to maintain a delicate balance and could not simply share sensitive information about one side with the other."
39. General Obeng visited Headquarters on 17 and 18 May 2001 as part of his hand-over process upon completion of his term of command. He met senior officials of DPKO, including Mr Guéhenno. On 17 May, the Force Commander gave Mr. Hutter a copy of the videotape in private. General Obeng did not mention the videotape to any other official of DPKO during his visit.
40. During the last weeks of May, Mr. Guéhenno, accompanied by the Desk Officer, travelled to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Egypt, a trip planned in March. There is no reference in the briefing books to any videotape made by UNIFIL on 8 October. Mr. Hutter did not brief the USG/DPKO about the videotape.
41. While in Israel, the USG/DPKO met IDF Colonel Zarka and Mr. Walzer of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in a previously unscheduled meeting. Mr. Roed-Larsen also attended this meeting. Colonel Zarka asked for help in securing any information that would shed light on the condition of the abducted soldiers. He said that Israel had information that UNIFIL was in possession of a film or pictures pertinent to the incident. Mr. Guéhenno said UNIFIL had looked into this matter and that, so far as he knew, all relevant information had been provided to Israel. He added that if there was any information that could shed light on the condition of the soldiers, the United Nations would provide it. Mr. Walzer said that Israel had heard from current and ex-UNIFIL sources that UNIFIL had a film. Mr. Guéhenno said he was unaware of this3 and undertook to "triple check".
EVENTS DURING JUNE 2001
42. Upon his return to New York and before he was able to undertake formal enquiries, Mr. Guéhenno became aware of the videotape on 6 June. Mr. Hutter subsequently briefed the USG/DPKO and the Assistant Secretary-General of Operations of DPKO, Mr. Hedi Annabi, on the origin and contents of the videotape. (This was the first occasion that the Director briefed any colleagues or senior officials about the videotapes' existence.) Mr. Guéhenno asked that the contents of the videotape carefully be reviewed again and a briefing note prepared.
43. On 14 June, the Secretary-General travelled to the Middle East. He arrived in Israel on 16 June. He had not been briefed as to the videotape's existence. While in Israel, he was provided by the Israeli Permanent Representative with a number of photographs purportedly relating to the abduction incident. In a letter dated 16 June, the Permanent Representative indicated that Israel had information that UNIFIL personnel were in possession of photographic material taken at the scene of the abduction on 7 October. The letter stated that still prints from the videotape footage indicated that relevant photographic material was in UNIFIL's possession. Videotape footage received by Israel (presumably from Syrian television) had however shed no new light on the fate of the abducted soldiers. The Secretary-General forwarded the photographs to DPKO for evaluation.
44. Israel, in its letter of 29 July to the investigation team, noted that on 26 June 2001 a senior UNIFIL official told a relative of one of the soldiers that he believed that photographs of the kidnapping existed and that he promised to try to obtain them and further promised to transfer the videotape by mid-July.
45. On 26 June, Mr. Guéhenno informed the Secretary-General in writing that General Obeng had brought a videotape to New York in mid-May. The Under-Secretary-General described the contents of the videotape and added that, having viewed the videotape, he agreed with General Obeng's assessment that it cast no light on the condition of the three soldiers. He also considered that it would be incompatible with UNIFIL's role and obligations to hand it to Israel. Mr. Guéhenno added that the videotape's only conceivable value lay in identifying the Hizbollah personnel shown on it or possibly learning something about Hizbollah's logistics by tracing equipment seen in the two vehicles. He recommended that the United Nations maintain the position already conveyed to the Israeli authorities. The Secretary-General agreed and a letter was sent to the Israeli authorities.
46. On 28 June, in Tel Aviv, the Israeli Minister of Defence and other senior Israeli defence officials raised the question of the existence of a UNIFIL videotape with the Special Coordinator and with the Personal Representative (now Mr. de Mistura). Mr. de Mistura said that he had been assured by the Force Commander that such a tape did not exist. General Ashkanazi, from IDF's Northern Command, said that he was certain the United Nations had a tape and that the Force Commander and Headquarters in New York knew about it. Mr. Roed-Larsen responded strongly that this was a very serious allegation, questioning the good faith of senior United Nations officials, and requested General Ashkanazi share his source of information. General Ashkanazi did not do so.
47. On 28 June, Mr. Guéhenno informed Mr. Larsen that he had learnt in early June about the existence of a videotape. He also undertook to provide the Special Coordinator with correspondence between himself and the Government of Israel.
48. On 29 June, Mr. Guéhenno instructed the now Acting Force Commander of UNIFIL, General Athmanathan, to secure physical and documentary evidence in UNIFIL's possession. In addition, the Acting Force Commander undertook to inform the USG/DPKO of all such evidence, not only that deemed important from a humanitarian perspective. General Athmanathan was asked to provide a detailed account of the incidents of 7 and 8 October 2000.
49. Mr. Guéhenno, under instruction from the Secretary-General, spoke to the Israeli Permanent Representative by telephone on 29 June. He confirmed that neither Mr. Roed-Larsen nor Mr. de Mistura had any prior knowledge of a videotape. He himself had only become aware of the videotape's existence on 6 June. He briefed the Permanent Representative as to the videotape's contents and why it would not be possible for the United Nations to show the videotape to Israel.
50. Also on 29 June, Mr. Guéhenno transmitted to the Special Coordinator the Israeli Permanent Representative's letters of 2 March and 16 June and the USG/DPKO's replies of 14 March and 29 June.
EVENTS DURING JULY 2001
51. On 2 July, Mr. Roed-Larsen reported on a meeting with Mr. Moshe Kohanovsky, Israel's focal point on the hostage issue, who informed him that the Israeli Government was demanding that the videotape be released.
52. Later that same day, Mr. Guéhenno informed Mr. Roed-Larsen of the Secretary-General's decision that he (the Special Coordinator) should not be drawn further into this matter and that UNSCO should refer any further demarches to New York.
53. On 3 July, the USG/DPKO replied to the Israeli Permanent Representative's letter of 16 June, informing him that the information available to the United Nations had been reviewed and that the Organization came to the same conclusion as it did in March, that is, it had no further information that would shed light on the fate of the soldiers. He added that he would revert should he become aware of information that would be of use.
54. On 5 July, a press report indicated that a UNIFIL spokesman confirmed the existence of a videotape taken 18 hours after the abduction. The spokesman added that the tape had been filmed by a soldier in the Indian Battalion and had been found at United Nations headquarters.
55. Also on 5 July, Mr. Guéhenno asked General Athmanathan for any information that would shed light on the photographs provided by Israel to the Secretary-General.
56. On the same day, in a letter to the Secretary-General, Israel's Minister of Defence requested that the complete original videotape, together with all the information available to the United Nations relating to the abduction of the Israeli soldiers, be handed over to Israel.
57. On 6 July, Mr. Guéhenno replied to the Minister of Defence's letter of 5 July, indicating that while no videotape existed of the abduction, a videotape filmed the following day and at another location, did exist. This videotape contained nothing that could give an indication as to the fate of the abductees. However, the USG/DPKO indicated that, in deference to the anxieties of the families of the abductees, the United Nations was prepared to show Israeli Government representatives a copy of the videotape with the faces of non-UN personnel obscured. A similar letter was sent to the Lebanese Permanent Representative.
58. Mr. Guéhenno also held a press conference on 6 July, providing information on events since 7 October.4 He said he was sure that there was no videotape in the possession of the Secretariat that showed the abduction itself.
59. On 7 July, Mr. de Mistura informed Headquarters of a conversation with Hizbollah's Chief of Security. According to the Chief of Security, Hizbollah had been aware of the UNIFIL videotape for some three months and knew that it showed the faces of Hizbollah people in Lebanon.
60. On 8 July, the Israeli Minister of Defence wrote to the Secretary-General, reiterating that the United Nations should release the original videotape in its entirety.
61. On 9 July, General Athmanathan responded to the USG/DPKO's requests for a chronology of events. UNIFIL indicated that one of its units had been ordered to videotape the entire contents of the vehicles and the site where they were located. He reported that the 8 October videotape had been discussed with Headquarters in October and it had been decided to keep the videotape in UNIFIL's custody.
62. On 16 July, General Athmanathan informed Mr. Guéhenno that, on 11 July, UNIFIL had learned of the existence of another videotape (hereafter referred to the Shebaa tape). This videotape, which did not indicate any time or date, nor the identity of the person filming, showed the shelling of IDF posts on 7 October, three to four kilometres from the abduction site, as well as activity in a UNIFIL shelter. The footage on this videotape is of the bombardment of Israeli positions along the Blue Line, and shows smoke that could be of the burning Israeli jeep. It appeared to be filmed from several locations, including from in or near a United Nations observation post and shelter.
63. General Athmanathan also informed the USG/DPKO about the discovery of still photographs and diskettes taken by OGL at the same time as the Indian Battalion videotape of 8 October of the recovery operation.
64. Also on 16 July, the Acting Force Commander replied to Mr. Guéhenno's earlier request regarding still photographs handed to the Secretary-General on 16 June. A detailed analysis undertaken by UNIFIL revealed a number of differences between these photographs and the site at which they were purported to have been taken.
(a) The videotapes and other photographic material
65. No United Nations videotape or photographs were made of the abduction of the three Israeli soldiers on 7 October.
66. The Indian Battalion videotape of 8 October that is the genesis of this investigation was made under instruction from the then Deputy Force Commander, General Athmanathan, in accordance with standard operating procedures. This videotape deals with the recovery of the two vehicles and their subsequent hand-over to Hizbollah personnel. Despite having been filmed on the day after the abduction, it does not show the abduction itself.
67. During the course of the investigation, the investigation team became aware of the existence of two additional videotapes. The first videotape, filmed on 7 October in the vicinity of Shebaa village by an unknown person, has been in the possession of the United Nations in Lebanon since November 2000. At no stage prior to 16 July 2001 was its existence reported to Headquarters. It does not show the abduction itself.
68. The second videotape comprised a videotape clip that accompanied a Lebanese television bulletin apparently shown on 15 July 2001. It shows images of the recovery operation filmed on 8 October and also purports to show still photographs of Hizbollah fighters during the abduction incident itself.
69. The investigation team is unaware of any other videotape of the incidents of 7 and 8 October which is in the possession of the United Nations. However, it would note that a civilian, whose identity is unknown, was filming on 8 October at the site of the recovery of the vehicles.
70. Thirty-five millimetre and digital photography was shot by OGL on 8 October in accordance with standard operating procedures. They overlap with the initial sequences of the Indian Battalion videotape of the recovery of the vehicles and the cataloguing of the items in them. These photographs do not provide any new information beyond that shown in the videotape.
(b) External communications
71. Initial communications with Israeli authorities on the abduction and its aftermath were undertaken by UNIFIL in the field. Senior UNIFIL officials, at the earliest opportunity, provided general information on the incident and its aftermath to the Israeli authorities on an informal basis. Only partial records of such discussions appear to exist. UNIFIL officials did not advise their interlocutors of the existence of a videotape: the reasons for this were that they did not believe that the videotape contained any information which bore directly on the condition of the soldiers. At the same time, UNIFIL was cognizant of the need for prudence in sharing military information with parties to a conflict.
72. Subsequent communications with the Israeli authorities in Israel and New York centred both on concerns regarding the illegal use of the United Nations items and the possible existence of information in the possession of the United Nations that could shed light on the condition of the three Israeli soldiers. The Israeli authorities on several occasions requested such information. At no stage prior to 29 June were they advised that the United Nations was in possession of a videotape and photographs of the recovery process. Information regarding the existence of the 7 October videotape was not shared outside UNIFIL until July 2001. Senior officials, such as the former and current Personal Representatives of the Secretary-General, the Special Coordinator and the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, were clearly unaware of these videotapes when they made their denials to the Israeli authorities. Other senior officials, notably the Force Commander and the Director, were aware of the existence of the 8 October videotape but chose not to make it known to the Israeli authorities. In their view, they did not feel that the United Nations was under any obligation to do so, nor did the tape contain information on the condition of the abducted soldiers.
73. Mr. Guéhenno did inform the Israeli Permanent Representative, on 29 June, of both the existence and contents of the Indbatt videotape. He underlined that the videotape provided no further information that would shed light on the fate of the soldiers. Since the USG/DPKO was not aware of the tape's existence prior to 6 June, his denial of its existence to an Israeli interlocutor on 29 May cannot be construed as deliberately misleading.
74. Subsequently, the United Nations announced that a videotape had been made eighteen hours after the abduction. It offered to show it to the Israeli and Lebanese authorities with the faces of the non-United Nations personnel obscured.
(c) Internal communications
75. The reports from UNIFIL to Headquarters in New York, and between UNIFIL Headquarters and its sector battalions and OGL military observers, were sparse and did not allude to the existence of the Indian Battalion videotape in the assessment contained in a special report dated 11 October on the abduction ordered by General Obeng. The Force Commander, as instructed, kept the video in the field. This critical information was never conveyed to Headquarters in New York, even when this was requested in early March. It is these failings that led to miscommunications between the field and Headquarters and between the United Nations and a Member State.
76. It is evident to the investigation team that the Force Commander reported the existence of this videotape to the Director between 9 and 12 October. The assessment made by General Obeng and Mr. Hutter was that the videotape did not shed any new information on the possible condition of the soldiers and its existence should not be disclosed to any party to the conflict. The investigation team is persuaded that this judgement was based on their assessment that the videotape was nothing more than a supplement to written and oral reports which themselves could not be released or disclosed.
77. Mr. Hutter did not inform his superiors of the existence of the Indian Battalion videotape's existence because: (a) the tape's existence shed no new light on the abductions, (b) it could not be shared with any party, and (c) could potentially undermine efforts to release the hostages. Mr. Guéhenno eventually discovered the videotape's existence by chance on 6 June. He had the tape reviewed. Having ascertained the facts, he notified the Secretary-General on 26 June of the existence of the videotape.
78. Also of concern is a tendency by some senior officials to overprotect information or, at a minimum, to fail to share it with their superiors in the belief that their personal judgement alone was correct and sufficient. Such an attitude led them to withhold information from their superiors and peers both in the field and at Headquarters. These failings contributed to keeping colleagues and senior officials in the dark about key developments they needed to know and which had important political implications and which led to misperceptions by and misunderstandings with Member States.
(d) Operational aspects
79. The incident which triggered this investigation was the most serious violation since the establishment of the Blue Line. UNIFIL's impartiality has been tested on many occasions by the parties. It has performed well under very difficult circumstances.
80. The complex political situation that exists in southern Lebanon and surrounding areas needs to be kept firmly in mind. The investigation team is also conscious that in the face of these complexities, three separate peacekeeping missions and two peace-making offices co-exist in the wider area. While these entities may have a clear appreciation of each other's mandates, reporting lines and roles, at the operational level they do not always work together in a cohesive manner.
81. The investigation team saw no evidence that either the Indian Battalion or any other component of UNIFIL colluded with Hizbollah. The abduction was well-planned and United Nations peacekeepers only became aware of it two hours later.
82. The steps taken to retrieve the vehicles and the United Nations items found therein were adequate. The decision to videotape and photograph the recovery operation was sound. The investigation team does not question the decision to surrender the two vehicles to Hizbollah.
(e) Elementary considerations of humanity
83. Information on the recovery of the vehicles and on the possible condition of their occupants was conveyed to the Israeli authorities after the incident. Although United Nations officials gave various assurances to Israeli representatives, notably in mid-November, that they would provide additional information, it does not appear that these assurances were followed up.
84. Two serious shortcomings arise: firstly, Headquarters was never informed as to the findings made on 11 October by the then Deputy Force Commander about the seriousness of the injuries to the occupants of the vehicles. Secondly, this information was never conveyed to the Israeli authorities. Presumably, Hizbollah was aware of the condition of the soldiers and its own personnel.
85. No attempt seems to have been made by UNIFIL to link the amount of blood found on the recovered items, the traces of blood that appear in the videotape of 8 October and the blood noted in the vehicles. In the case of the latter, the team accepts that UNIFIL had no precise means of determining either the type or quantity of blood found. No samples could be taken. Nevertheless, the assessment of a senior military officer (in this case the Deputy Force Commander) about the amount of blood found in the vehicles and the conclusion drawn from that observation should have been acted upon earlier based on elementary considerations of humanity.
86. The effectiveness of UNIFIL, and indeed of all peacekeeping operations in the field, in carrying out the mandates and tasks assigned to them by the Security Council, can only be assured if they act with full impartiality and objectivity. In particular, it is incumbent on them to ensure that military and other sensitive information remains in their domain and is not passed to parties to a conflict. These considerations came to bear in judgements which were made concerning the videotape.
87. At the same time, the Organization acknowledges its obligations arising from elementary considerations of humanity to bring to the attention of the parties information relating to the well-being or otherwise of the three abducted soldiers. In this case, the humanitarian consideration was the possibility of serious injury or death. The conclusion from a visual observation and inspection, that some occupants of the vehicles may have been seriously injured, should have been conveyed officially to the Israelis. Viewing the tapes alone would not have revealed the seriousness of injuries.
88. The videotape of 8 October was the catalyst for this investigation. There is nothing in the Indian Battalion videotape that justified its release to any party on elementary considerations of humanity. The investigation team uncovered the existence of another tape that, despite the fact that it was taped on 7 October, and the fact that it was filmed in a nearby location, also contains no information that bears on the well-being of the soldiers. The Force Commander's initial assessment and subsequent assessments by other senior officials has not varied: neither the tape nor the photographs contain any information that relates to the well-being of the soldiers. The investigation team concludes that at no time was videotape or other photographic material relevant to the condition of the soldiers withheld.
89. No videotape or photograph of the abduction itself is in the United Nation's possession.
90. In the view of the investigation team, the delay in informing the Israeli authorities of the existence of the videotape of the events of 8 October was occasioned by inadequate internal communications and poor judgement on the part of several senior officials who thought they were doing the right thing by not sharing information with one party to a conflict. Furthermore, these officials felt that they were under no obligation to reveal every last piece of information the United Nations had in its possession. The investigation team therefore concludes that the United Nations did not deliberately mislead the Israeli Government.
91. Internal United Nations communications were faulty and inadequate. Senior officials both in the field and at Headquarters kept key, sensitive information to themselves. The fact that the United Nations was in possession of a second videotape made on 7 October and whose existence was unknown in New York until 16 July is a matter of serious concern.
92. The discovery of United Nations' items in the vehicles used during the abduction is also a matter of serious concern. This is in contravention of international law and places the lives of United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon at risk.
93. Finally, the investigation team is convinced on the basis of the evidence that it has seen and heard that the mistakes made followed from lapses in judgement and failures in communication, not from conspiracies or mala fides.
Terms of Reference
INVESTIGATION OF EVENTS RELATED TO 7 AND 8 OCTOBER 2000 (UNIFIL)
To ascertain the facts of:
1. UNIFIL's actions on 7 October 2000, specifically, the steps taken by UNIFIL troops before, during and immediately following the Hizbollah attack across the Blue Line in which three Israel Defence Forces soldiers were taken captive by Hizbollah.
2. UNIFIL's actions on 7 and 8 October 2000 pertaining to the location of the suspect vehicles, any efforts taken to secure and/or search them, the retrieval attempt, the abandonment of the effort and turning the vehicles over to presumed Hizbollah operatives.
3. All of UNIFIL's efforts to document the above, including but not limited to the videotape taken by the Indian battalion that is the catalyst for this investigation.
4. UNIFIL's actions with respect to the requests by Israeli authorities, military or otherwise, for information in UNIFIL's possession pertaining to the events of 7 October. This aspect of the inquiry should track all steps taken from 7 October through the Force Commander's delivery of the 8 October videotape to United Nations Headquarters in mid-May 2001.
5. Any communications, written or verbal, between United Nations representatives in the field and at Headquarters, pertaining to the existence of documentary evidence of the events of 7 and 8 October and to the requests by Israeli authorities for it.
6. The Secretariat's, most specifically, the actions of the DPKO with respect to the requests by Israeli authorities for information pertaining to the events of 7 October, commencing with the first request transmitted by letter from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the Secretary-General by letter dated 2 March 2001, and including all correspondence and in-person contact with Israeli officials thereafter.
7. Any communications, written or verbal, between the United Nations representatives in the field, pertaining to the existence of documentary evidence of the events of 7 and 8 October, and any actions taken by them pertaining to requests by Israeli authorities for same.
COMPOSITION OF FACT-FINDING TEAM
Mr. J. Connor - Department of Management
Mr. K. Walton - Department of Management
Mr. A. Miller - Office of Legal Affairs
Mr. A. Abramov - Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Mr. V. Kisob - United Nations Office at Vienna
Mr. J. Christofides - Department of Political Affairs
Ms. M. Legaspi - Department of Management
Ms. M. Collins - Department of Management