The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday sent out a press release that misrepresented the one-sided nature of the UN Human Rights Council’s permanent investigative mandate on Israel, currently held by Richard Falk, who happens to be America’s leading promoter of 9/11 conspiracy theories.

In response, UN Watch today sent the following letter to OHCHR spokesman Kevin Turner:

Subject: Correction on mandate of UN Special Rapporteur

Dear Mr. Turner,

United Nations Watch is an accredited NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC and an active contributor to the discussion on the Human Rights Council.

We write to ask for the correction of a significant error in a UN Media statement published yesterday by the OHCHR, and diffused throughout the UN system, in which you were listed as the contact person. The text stated that Mr. Richard Falk “is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law on Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”

This statement is incorrect. The unchanged mandate as spelled out in Article 4 of Commission on Human Rights resolution 1993/2 is as follows: “To investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law, international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967.”

The mandate as you described it would be of universal application to all actors, be they Israeli or Palestinian. The mandate as it is actually is, however, applies only to Israeli actions, with violations presumed in advance. As I am sure you will agree, there is a substantial difference between the two.

Indeed, on 16 June 2008, current mandate-holder Richard Falk acknowledged the one-sided nature of the mandate, saying it was open to challenges regarding “the bias and one-sidedness of the approach taken.” He added: “With all due respect, I believe that such complaints have considerable merit.”  Several states expressed themselves on the matter, however no change was made. The summary is available here.

Likewise, Mr. Falk’s predecessor, John Dugard, noted in an August 2005 report that the mandate “does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority.”

Finally, the one-sided nature of the mandate has been criticized by many democracies, including the European Union, as well as by human rights NGOs. For example, on 11 July 2008, Amnesty International stated that, “The current mandate’s focus on limitation to Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories undercuts both the effectiveness and the credibility of the mandate.”

Amnesty noted that the current mandate “fails to take account of the human rights of victims of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by parties other than the State of Israel” –  i.e, the mandate excludes all violations — including acts of incitement or terrorism — by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian actors.

I know that the UN Secretariat, the OHCHR and the media department are committed to providing accurate information to the media and the larger public, and assume that this was an oversight.

In light of the above, we ask that you issue a correction to the media who received the above release, clarifying the actual mandate, and to make the necessary changes on the relevant UN websites.

I am copying here the office of the Special Rapporteur, as well as several Member State and media representatives.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Hillel C. Neuer
Executive Director
United Nations Watch

UN Watch