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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Christine Chinkin

You will recall that Christine Chinkin was the member of the Goldstone panel who signed a letter that appeared in the Times of London on January 11, 2009 - while Operation Cast Lead was still going on - which was entitled Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime. Here's part of that letter.
ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

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. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.


Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.
When Chinkin was named to Goldstone's panel, a number of pro-Israel groups objected, claiming that the Times letter meant that Chinkin's mind was made up and that she was not impartial (the other members were not impartial either, but they weren't quite as blatant). One group, UN Watch, filed a petition with Goldstone asking that he disqualify Chinkin from serving on the panel. Goldstone rejected the petition, and told South Africa's Business Day:
“I was asked about this on Israeli television today and I repeat what I said. Firstly, I’ve known Christine Chinkin for years. I’ve always found her to be not only highly intelligent but a person who has an open mind. This is not a judicial inquiry. If it had been a judicial inquiry, that letter she’d signed would have been a ground for disqualification … I have absolutely no reason to question her open-mindedness, her willingness to change her opinions if need be, and indeed she has demonstrated that openness during all of her work on this mission and in all our discussions.”

So what made this mission different from a judicial inquiry?

“All we’re doing is collecting facts. We’ve got no judicial powers at all. We simply report the facts and any recommendations we wish to make to the Human Rights Council and possibly to other organs of the UN.”

That may be a legal distinction, but in such a fraught area of the world, will people pause to consider the difference? Goldstone starts answering even before I’ve finished the question. “Absolutely. A judicial inquiry — I’m talking about a criminal inquiry where a court would have the power to find people guilty and punish them — is very remote from the sort of brief we’ve got.”

But given Israel’s apparent view that the UN is out to get it, surely this fact would guarantee that the government — especially in the build-up to a general election, which it held in February — wouldn’t recognise the fact-finding mission? For the first time in our conversation Goldstone drops his legal rigour and reveals the passionate person beneath. Behind the legal argument is an honest, human assessment. “Look, there are four of us. We’re going to be reporting on facts and making recommendations on them. It’s not a judicial job. It really isn’t. Everybody brings views to the table…. All of us brought our political views with us. Human beings have them.”
Goldstone's report has sections called "findings of fact" and "conclusions of law" - which are sections that appear in a judge's decision. But United Nations Watch wants the answer to a different question that arises from Chinkin's service on the commission.
The question that Goldstone has never answered: if he promised that his fact-finding inquiry would be impartial, why should its status as judicial, quasi-judicial, or non-judicial, have lessened the minimal requirements of impartiality? Was he and his mission subject to any standards at all, and if so, which? Our legal brief invoked the basic standards of international fact-finding, but to even these he effectively pleaded immunity.

Goldstone’s message to Israel has boiled down to this: The ends do not justify the means. Yet in continuing to look away from that which he knows to be wrong, sacrificing the principles of natural justice for his naively-held objective of enforcing justice and peace in the Middle East through the UN’s most biased bodies, it is this very principle that he violates time and again.
Maybe someone will put that question to Goldstone on Thursday.


At 1:35 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think someone should ask Goldstone why his panel did not follow accepted principles of impartiality, procedural fairness and adherence to due process of law. Everything else in the report is of no value if those principles were not followed or violated. And Goldstone's refusal to answer those elementary questions says a lot more about him and his fellow panelists than it does about Israel.


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