GENEVA — UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay, responding to a complaint by the UN Watch monitoring group, and ensuing global furor, issued an unprecedented statement about one of the UN Human Rights Council’s own officials, describing a caricature posted on his personal blog as “objectionable” and “anti-Semitic,” a form of hatred and racial discrimination that “I utterly deplore.” Click here for High Commissioner Pillay’s letter.
While Pillay declined to call for Falk’s resignation, citing his apologies, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer welcomed her letter, which was received today. The Geneva-based human rights organization was the first to call attention to the blog post.
“Despite the usual disclaimers and diplomatic language, the high commissioner unequivocally states that Richard Falk’s cartoon was anti-Semitic, which she deplores and condemns as a form of hatred and racial
discrimination,” said Neuer.
“This appears to be the first time that anyone from the 1000-strong office of the high commissioner has commented on an abuse by a Human Rights Council expert, and the first time that Ms. Pillay personally responded to one of our complaints, which are normally handled by her deputies. It marks an important first step that increases the moral pressure on Falk,” said Neuer.
In his letter today replying to Pillay’s statement (see text below), Neuer urged the high commissioner to call for the resignation of Falk, “who discredits the noble mission of the United Nations and its universal principles of human rights.”
UN Watch submitted additional evidence to Pillay concerning Falk’s failure to fulﬁll his mandate with the required expertise, integrity and impartiality.
Controversy erupted worldwide last week after Falk posted a cartoon showing a dog in a “USA” shirt and wearing a Jewish religious head-covering, urinating on a symbol of justice. Falk initially denied it, then removed the cartoon while insisting he saw no problem, and finally issued an apology while also attacking the motives of his critics.
Citing UN Watch’s complaint to Pillay, UK Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers, together with fellow Conservative MP David Burrowes, yesterday urged their government leader, Prime Minister David Cameron, to “join us in putting pressure on the UN Human Rights Council to call for his
immediate resignation.” Click here for British MPs’ letter.
Pillay initially refused to comment on the caricature. Spokesman Rupert Colville said last week that it was “not the place of the OHCHR to comment” on the special rapporteurs, who are appointed by of the Human Rights Council.” In a similar 2008 Falk controversy Colville said that, “As a matter of practice, we do not offer commentaries on individual special rapporteurs… There are some 27 of them in all, and if we started making character judgments on one or two of them, it would never stop.”
UN Watch expressed appreciation to Pillay for making an exception in this case.
“That you chose to break with precedent for this incident—by issuing a public statement on Mr. Falk’s blog post, and doing so personally—underscores your commitment to the fight against all forms of discrimination, and to the principle that UN appointees cannot misuse their positions with impunity,” Neuer wrote in his letter today to Pillay.
Today’s UN Watch reply to Pillay follows below.
July 14, 2011
Dear Madam High Commissioner,
Thank you for your letter of 11 July responding to UN Watch’s complaint regarding the hateful caricature published last week by Richard Falk, a Human Rights Council expert who works with and is supported by your office.
As the most senior human rights official of the United Nations, your public acknowledgment that the image was anti-Semitic—coupled with your unequivocal statement deploring and condemning all acts of anti-Semitism and racial discrimination—constitutes a powerful rejoinder to the hatred and prejudice underlying that caricature, examples of which appear regularly in the state-sponsored media of precisely those countries which campaign at the UN against religiously defamatory cartoons.
UN Watch appreciates that as a matter of practice your office does not comment on the council’s independent experts. That you chose to break with precedent for this incident—by issuing a public statement on Mr. Falk’s blog post, and doing so personally—underscores your commitment to the fight against all forms of discrimination, and to the principle that UN appointees cannot misuse their positions with impunity.
In that spirit, we call on you to condemn Mr. Falk’s other insulting statements, including his recent blog post calling Mr. Ban Ki-moon a “shameless secretary-general,” and his repeated utterances about US complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Finally, we urge you to call for the resignation of Mr. Falk, who discredits the noble mission of the United Nations and its universal principles of human rights.
Hillel C. Neuer