Wednesday, January 7, 2015
In March 2015, the United Nations (U.N.) Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict will release its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Read below for an in-depth analysis from leading expert, Hillel Neuer.
Hillel Neuer is the executive director of U.N. Watch, a human rights non-governmental organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Neuer taught international human rights at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. In 2008, he was elected vice president of the Conference of NGOs' Special Committee on Human Rights in Geneva. Neuer has represented 25 human rights groups as chair of the annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy since 2009.
Q: On, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) adopted a resolution to set up a commission of inquiry that accuses Israel of potential war crimes, hate crimes and indiscriminate attacks on Palestinians. However, the report fails to mention Hamas. Moreover, it only makes a passing mention of Israeli deaths from rocket fire during the recent fighting, without specifying who fired the rockets. Can a commission of inquiry with this mandate write a fair and balanced report of what is happening in Gaza?
NEUER: No, the commission was born in prejudice, and is shaped by it. The choice of William Schabas, a longtime anti-Israel activist, embodies this prejudice. The resolution that created the commission takes for granted that Israel was in breach of its international obligations. It created a commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes in Gaza "in the context of the military operations conducted since June 13, 2014,”which the preamble defined as being those by Israel, and which it condemned as "grave violations.” The context not chosen was the Hamas aggression against Israel. The EU refused to support the one-sided text, correctly saying it was "unbalanced, inaccurate and prejudges the outcome of the investigation by making legal statements.”
The late professor Thomas M. Franck, former president of the American Society of International Law, lamented the emergence of this U.N. pattern in the 1970s. He would have said that the Schabas Commission has been established by a mandate that includes conclusory language that palpably interferes with the integrity of the fact-finding process, violating the essential line between political assumptions and issues that ought to be impartially determined. Any fact-finding commission created by terms of reference that seek to direct its conclusions is, in Franck’s words, essentially a waste of time. Its findings, at most, will reassure those whose minds are already made up.
Q: Since its inception in mid-2006, the U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted at least 58 resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation. Much of this anti-Israel bias is a result of the Council’s Agenda 7 item. It states that the body must discuss Israel's alleged human rights violations each and every time the Council convenes, regardless of what is occurring in other countries. Does this level of castigation match Israel’s human rights record? Why is the Council so opposed to Israel?
NEUER: The resolutions against Israel are not rationally justifiable, but rather one-sided, selective and politicized. They are a product of the anti-Israel political campaign waged by the Arab and Islamic states at the U.N.
Beyond the numerical disproportionality of targeting Israel in more than 50 percent of all resolutions, Israel texts differ from all of the other country resolutions because they are suffused with political hyperbole, selective reporting, and the systematic suppression of any countervailing facts that might provide balance in background information or context.
By contrast, even the Council’s resolutions on a perpetrator of atrocities such as Sudan – whose president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court – regularly included language praising, commending, and urging international aid funds for its government.
The practice of singling out Israel – not only with a disproportionate amount of resolutions, but with language that is uniquely condemnatory – constantly reinforces the impression that there is nothing whatsoever to be said in Israel’s favor. The effect, as philosopher Bernard Harrison has carefully shown in his book The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism, which describes this same phenomenon in other influential sectors, is to stigmatize Israel as evil.
Q: Though many European countries expressed their support for Israel’s right to defend itself, they chose to abstain rather than oppose the inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. Though they expressed their desire for a more even-handed document, they chose not to vote against it. Why did countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, who have supported Israel’s right to self-defense, not oppose this measure? What does it say about the Human Rights Council?
NEUER: Israel is not very popular today in Europe, certainly not among progressive elites or Muslims, an increasingly large and vocal community in the continent. U.N. votes reflect how countries wish to position themselves in response to internal and external pressures. Bear in mind that the U.N. works by vote-trading, and the Islamic bloc has 56 votes to the Jewish bloc’s one vote. Finally, many countries succumb to financial pressure, oil needs and other forms of intimidation.
It is shameful that the highest human rights body of the United Nations, along with several of its specialized agencies that are supposed to advance humanitarian and social causes, is being willfully and systematically misused by an organized campaign to assault Israel. Noble principles and purposes, such as human rights, equality and peace, are being subverted by selectivity, politicization and prejudice. The United Nations will never live up to its founding promise so long as this pathology endures.
Q: Out of 47 nations voting on this resolution, the United States was the only one opposed. What does this say about the United States’ bond with Israel, and America’s commitment to Israel’s security? What does it say about the other nations who voted on this motion?
NEUER: America remains Israel’s most significant ally and supporter at the U.N. It was deeply regrettable that outgoing U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay chose to criticize the U.S. for consistently voting against the Arab states’ one-sided resolutions. Ms. Pillay should have praised America for courageously standing up to prejudice, and against the world’s worst dictators. Moreover, we note that Ms. Pillay has never criticized Russia, China, and Cuba for voting at the U.N. to defend the murderous regime in Syria. This is just one more case of double standards, and of moral confusion.
Q: Countries that voted for this inquiry aimed at maligning Israel include: China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia. What kind of message does it send when countries with such appalling human rights records are allowed to single out Israel for international rebuke?
NEUER: (William) Schabas told NPR that the resolution creating his commission was “voted democratically.” Yet when a two-thirds majority of tyrannies wins a vote, that is not democracy, but the cynical abuse thereof.
Q: As part of your address to the Council, you brought up the deafening silence concerning the plight of the Palestinians in Syria. The Syrian delegate objected to your testimony. What do you have to say about the seeming hypocrisy of this Council convening a session on Palestinian rights, yet ignoring Palestinian suffering elsewhere in the region?
NEUER: Countries like Syria voiced support for the resolution, but when I called them out on their actual murder of Palestinians, the Syrian delegate objected vehemently. The hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Q: There is a fear that the report resulting from this inquiry could lead to another biased and flawed anti-Israel report like the Goldstone Report in 2009. Is there any hope that a Human Rights Council fact-finding mission can yield a fair and balanced report?
NEUER: There is, regrettably, no basis to hope for a fair report from a commission with a biased mandate, a biased chairman, a biased staff and a biased council to whom the report will be submitted for adoption.
Q: America’s new ambassador to this body, Amb. Keith Harper, ridiculed the bias against Israel during his first speech to the Council. What, if anything, can he and the United States do to prevent this inquiry from yielding another blatantly anti-Israel report?
NEUER: I salute Amb. Harper for his strong statement against the bias of the UNHRC. The U.S. should try to pressure the Office of the High Commissioner, which exercises unique influence over the report to ensure balance. I also urge the U.S. to support our call for Schabas to recuse himself on grounds of bias or the appearance thereof.