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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mary Robinson says to listen Goldstone anyway

I trust you all remember that just a short time ago, US President Barack Obama presented Mary Robinson, who presided over the first Durban Conference at which Israel was vilified as an 'apartheid state,' with America's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom.

Before Richard Goldstone agreed to head the United Nations 'Human Rights Council' commission that bears his name, Mary Robinson was offered the job. She turned it down because the mandate only called to investigate 'Israeli war crimes' and much has been made of that fact in the aftermath of Goldstone's outrageous report. But in Pakistan's Daily Times, Robinson now dismisses the unbalanced mandate that caused her to decline chairing the commission, saying that it doesn't matter whether that mandate conformed to United Nations rules.
I refused to accept the invitation from the president of the Human Rights Council at the time, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, to lead the investigation following the Human Rights Council’s January 12, 2009 resolution. As a former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I felt strongly that the Council’s resolution was one-sided and did not permit a balanced approach to determining the situation on the ground. It referred only to “the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks,” and called for a mission to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.”

I was also aware that the UN Human Rights Council had made repeated condemnations of Israel over the past two years but had focused little attention on large-scale violations of human rights in other countries. This pattern of action and inaction by the Council has given greater credence to those who believe the UN’s highest human rights body is inherently anti-Israel.

I decided I could not undertake the mission for these reasons. I am aware that Judge Goldstone, a dedicated and unimpeachable human rights lawyer and advocate, shared similar concerns when he was initially approached. But he was able to work with the Council’s president to secure an agreement he felt confident would permit the mandate to be interpreted in such a way as to allow his team to address the actions taken by both parties to the conflict.

Experts can debate whether this was in conformity with UN rules and procedures. I have no doubt that those involved were seeking a way forward that would allow for a full investigation and help overcome the political divisiveness currently undermining the Human Rights Council within the UN system.
But the mandate cannot be so easily dismissed. As Human Rights lawyer Irwin Cotler pointed out in August in the Jerusalem Post:
Goldstone admits that he also refused the appointment - at least initially. "More than hesitate, I initially refused to become involved in any way [with the inquiry], on the basis of what seemed to me to be a biased, uneven-handed resolution of the UN Human Rights Council," he explained. But he felt comfortable enough to proceed when the then-president of the Council, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, purportedly expanded the mission's mandate for him, even though the enabling resolution behind the inquiry would remain unchanged, and though he would still be accountable to the Council that passed this resolution.

HOW GOLDSTONE could have considered his personal conversation with Uhomoibhi sufficient to quell his fears is surprising to say the least. One-sided or not, the mandate in the enabling Human Rights Council resolution is the one that determined the scope and tenor of the "fact-finding" mission. Uhomoibhi could no more have altered that mandate unilaterally than Goldstone could have himself, in defiance of the Council.

Indeed, any faith Goldstone possessed in the re-definition of his mandate should have dissipated when Uhomoibhi publicly stated on the day the inquiry was announced: "I am confident that the mission will be in a position to assess in an independent and impartial manner all human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the context of the conflict which took place between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009."

The alleged expansion of the mandate's timeframe that Goldstone apparently fought for, to include reference to Hamas's provocation (apparently from June 2008), was nowhere to be found in the description of his mandate.
Moreover, even if the mandate was meant to include 'Palestinian' rocket fire, the way that the mandate was phrased was still biased.
The mission's mandate is tainted through more subtle ways of prejudging its conclusions as well. For instance, the council's enabling resolution refers to the Gaza as being "occupied Palestinian territory." Such a description is loaded, and ignores the reality on the ground - that Israel fully withdrew from Gaza years ago. Indeed, the territory's status under international law remains unclear. By adopting this vernacular, the council - and Goldstone himself, who uses a similar characterization - implicitly predetermines an essential part of its analysis. For under international law, what constitutes a legitimate response will be very different depending on whether rocket attacks are coming from territory a state "controls," or whether they are coming from territory that is controlled by the attacking terrorist government, as in the case of Hamas.

In the end, whatever bargain Goldstone personally struck about his mandate, and whatever intentions he has of examining both sides of the conflict, his work will nonetheless be regrettably tarnished by its connection to the UN Human Rights Council, and may well be manipulated to satisfy the council's ends.

AND THUS we are left with the reality that Judge Richard Goldstone, previously shocked to the core, has become the leader of a mission that is tainted to the core.
Indeed. The mandate goes to the very core of what the Commission did. Anything not within its mandate can (and in some cases should) be disregarded. In the event, the Commission produced a 575-page report that totally ignored eight years of rocket fire on Israel by Hamas that led to Operation Cast Lead.

The Commission was also biased from the outset. As Melanie Phillips pointed out, the Commission was inherently biased:
Goldstone, Ms Hina Jilani and Col Desmond Travers signed a letter last March stating that events in Gaza had ‘shocked us to the core’ and calling for an investigation into ‘crimes perpetrated against civilians by both sides.’ So all three have already declared Israel guilty of such crimes – and as for the other side, their abuses lie outside the Commission’s scope.


In January, Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics ... signed a letter in the Times which stated: ‘Israel's bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence - it's a war crime.’ It went on: ‘The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence...Israel's actions amount to aggression, not self-defence’. Instead, ‘its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law’.
Mary Robinson's comments are far too little to overcome the bias in the Goldstone Commission's mandate and composition. They should be ignored by all who care about fairness and decency.


At 7:19 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I posted a weblog of the UNHCR session yesterday with a list of the countries speaking. Its very revealing as to why that body is obsessed with Israel to the complete exclusion of any other human situation in the world. Its not a body human rights victims can go to seek redress from abuses committed against them by their governments.

According to Mary Robinson, the only rule the UN follows is Israel is guilty. She isn't telling us anything we don't already know.


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