HRC flotilla probe will conduct investigation “on the ground,” or sea

Human Rights Council President Sihasak Phuangketkeow said the Gaza flotilla fact-finding mission will conduct its investigation “on the ground,” which would in fact be the sea as noted by an AP reporter during a press conference held in Geneva last week. To laughter, Sihasak said, “This is an investigation. If they don’t see the site then maybe they won’t come to the conclusions of what actually happened.”

Sihasak also called the mission “important to the credibility of the Council.” The three member committee was set up following a resolution passed by the Human Rights Council, which “condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces.” The resolution was passed by a wide majority at the June session of the Human Rights Council. The committee is expected to present its report as mandated by the resolution at the September session.Israeli commandos stormed the leading ship of a flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s maritime blockade 65 km off the coast of the Gaza strip on the afternoon of May 31. This prompted both the Human Rights Council to hold a special sitting and set up an investigative inquiry on the same day. The three member committee appointed by Council President Sihasak is comprised of Carl Hudson-Phillips from Trinidad Tobago, Desmond Da Silva from UK, and Mary Shanthi Dairiam from Malaysia. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formed a separate committee.

When probed by journalists about the need for such a mission, Sihasak repeatedly defended the Council’s mission as necessary and distinct from the Secretary-General’s panel. He claimed it does not duplicate the Secretary-General’s mission and is the Council’s rightful duty to respond to incidents of perceived violations.

A reporter from Reuters pointedly asked whether Sihasak as HRC President will ensure that the Council launches investigations into other perceived violations with many more casualties, given that it has thus far focused most of its concrete actions on Israel. Sihasak demurred and said that he hopes the Council will take “an even-handed approach in dealing with these situations.” He added, “My personal belief and philosophy is that the Council for its credibility has to show a degree of even-handedness involving situations of violations of human rights.” This is expected to be one of the central issues of the 2011 review of the Human Rights Council.

The reporter from AP asked whether a similar mission by a subsidiary body of the United Nations subverts and insults the Secetary-General, who has made clear on several occasions that his mission is the primary investigation by the United Nations into the incident. A reporter from Voice of America also asked whether Sihasak felt insulted that Israel has chosen to cooperate with the Secretary General but not the Council to which he responded that he merely hopes Israel will choose to cooperate with both mandates.

Sihasak claimed that the two missions do not overlap, noting that the Council’s mandate focuses on the incident specifically and will investigate violations whereas the Secretary-General’s panel will consider the context of the event as well as the broader incidents surrounding the attack. Sihasak refrained from calling the mission more narrow, but did admit that the Council’s mission will not consider the broader context of the incident. “We just want to establish the facts,” he said.

To listen to a recording of the press conference, click here.

UN Watch