Human Rights Advocate and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler: “Mandate Violated Fundamental Justice”
Geneva, June 13, 2007 — In a powerful speech today before the UN Human Rights Council that followed an address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Canadian parliamentarian and former justice minister Irwin Cotler made public for the first time that he had rejected an offer to join Tutu in his UN investigative mission to Gaza. The internationally-acclaimed human rights activist and former counsel to dissidents Nelson Mandela and Andrei Sakharov told the plenary that Council President Luis de Alba had invited him in November 2006 to join Tutu in a Council inquiry into Israel’s “wilful killing of civilians” in Beit Hanoun, but turned it down because the mandate violated “the fundamental principles of due process” by ignoring Palestinian rocket attacks. Professor Cotler spoke in his capacity as a board member of UN Watch, the Geneva-based human rights NGO.
Cotler said the Council, now meeting to wrap up a year’s worth of reform negotiations, is about to “institutionalize the condemnation of Israel as a standing item on the agenda—the permanent singling-out of Israel for differential and discriminatory treatment, a permanent Alice-in-Wonderland situation.” The tragedy, he said, was that “this is taking place under the protective cover of the UN, undermining thereby the cause of the UN, international law and human rights.”
All of the Council’s condemnations this year have been targeted against Israel, to the exclusion of the UN’s other 191 member states. Sudan’s actions in Darfur were debated but no censure followed.
For more on the perils of this week’s proposals, click here.
Professor Cotler’s speech to the plenary of the Human Rights Council follows below.
UN Watch Statement on Follow-Up
UNHRC 5th Session
13 June 2007
Delivered by M.P. Professor Irwin Cotler
Thank you, Mr. President.
I come from a country, Canada, that has regarded the United Nations as an organizing idiom of Canadian foreign policy, and that has made a substantial contribution to the development of UN law and the cause of human rights.
I regret, therefore, that I could not accept your invitation to join the investigative mission into Beit Hanoun headed by Archbishop Tutu. May I explain.
First, as a law professor and international lawyer, I could not accept a mandate to hear only one side of a dispute. The terms of reference deliberately ignored the Palestinian rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Sderot that preceded Israel’s actions, and which continue as we speak.
How could one accept a mandate that violated the right to a fair hearing and fundamental due process?
The mandate also violated the presumption of innocence. The resolution began by condemning, and I quote, “the Israeli wilful killing of Palestinian civilians.” How could one accept a fact-finding mission, a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland inquiry, where the conviction was secured and the sentence passed even before the inquiry began?
It is not surprising, therefore, that the Council members that most consistently support the human rights mechanisms of this body—including my country, Canada—all refused to support this mandate.
Regrettably, this discriminatory and one-sided approach has become not the exception but the norm. For the earlier sessions against Israel reflected not only the same contempt for the rule of law, but systematically singled out a member state for selective and discriminatory treatment, while granting the violators exculpatory immunity.
As the former Canadian Justice Minister, I can tell you that the Canadian people supported the changes establishing this Council because we genuinely believed it would herald reform, organized around the principles of universality, equality and fairness.
It appears that the Council is about to institutionalize the condemnation of Israel as a standing item on the agenda — the permanent singling-out of a member state for differential and discriminatory treatment.
The tragedy, Mr. President, is that all of this is taking place under the protective cover of the UN, undermining thereby the cause of the UN, international law and human rights. I trust that this Council will restore in process and substance the founding ideals that inspired the establishment of the UN, and the UN human rights system.