Geneva, Nov. 20, 2006 — The following statement by UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer is embargoed until official release of the report by the Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry into alleged Israeli violations in Lebanon:
On August 11 the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) convened an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council to create a commission of inquiry into “the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon.” Although Western democracies and major human rights groups objected that the exercise was one-sided—it ignored Hezbollah’s thousands of missile attacks and the kidnapping that sparked the conflict—the censure easily won adoption. Now giving Iran, Syria and the other 20 OIC state sponsors of the August resolution exactly what they desired, the report released today by the commissioners amounts to a 135-page indictment of Israel and a whitewash of Hezbollah violence.
It is bad enough that the members of the inquiry commission—João Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, and Stelios Perrakis of Greece—consented to a mandate directed against only one side of an international conflict, and ignoring the roles of Hezbollah and its sponsors, Iran and Syria. Worse, though, is that even in regard to that one party there was to be no genuine “inquiry”. The verdict was predetermined: the August resolution already found that Israel was guilty—of “gross violations” and more. All the commissioners were instructed to do was justify this conclusion by coming up with many ways to describe Israel’s prejudged guilt. This they have done.
The commissioners legitimize Hezbollah by adopting the terrorist group’s version of history, of this summer’s conflict and of international law.
“During the 1980s,” according to the report’s Profile and Background section, “Israel carried out frequent military operations, including shellings and air attacks.” Deliberately omitted here, however, are little facts like the preceding takeover of Southern Lebanon by Yasser Arafat and his 18,000 PLO guerillas, who launched massive artillery and mortar attacks against Israeli villagers in the Galilee, as well as more than 270 terrorist attacks against innocent civilians across Israel in the 12 months leading up to June 1982.
But the commissioners are eager at every turn to give voice to Hezbollah’s claim—which they repeat without ever challenging—that it is a legitimate “armed resistance against Israel’s unlawful occupation of Lebanese territory.” Their discussion of Israel’s complete, UN-certified withdrawal of Lebanon in the year 2000 artfully obscures the fact that the UN flatly rejected Hezbollah’s pretext that there remains an Israeli “occupation” of Lebanon. The commissioners also render Hezbollah’s flouting of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680 as mere “non-compliance,” or, even softer, as “non full implementation.” Worse, those resolutions are reduced by the commissioners to the single requirement that Hezbollah “disarm”—omitting that both texts expressly require Hezbollah’s complete disbanding. But recalling that international law requires Hezbollah to outright disband might cast aspersion on the latter’s legitimacy, and so it was conveniently ignored.
But what is by far the report’s greatest lapse is their selective approach to evidence. Statements submitted by any Lebanese source—including Hezbollah-related organizations and individuals such as former Hezbollah Minister of Labor Trad Hmadeh—are accepted fully. Attached to their report the commissioners publish without comment a lengthy Lebanese report listing every death as an “Israeli massacre.”
By contrast, although the report purports to thank NGOs for their contributions, the commissioners entirely ignored submissions to them by Amnesty International, UN Watch and other NGOs concerning violations by Hezbollah. The report does this not only in its fundamental failure to address Hezbollah violations as a subject in itself, but even in those few areas where they it does claim to consider Hezbollah actions. For example:
- The commissioners recognize that a TV station can be a legitimate target “if it called upon its audience to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.” But they then condemn Israel’s disabling of the Al-Manar station because “the Commission was not provided with any evidence of this ‘effective contribution to military action’.” This is false. The UN Watch submission to the commission included testimony of Al-Manar’s aiding and abetting of war crimes, including a quote by a official of that station admitting that “[Al-Manar is meant to] help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a ‘suicide mission.’ [Its videos] are meant to be the first step in the process of a freedom fighter operation.”
- The commissioners stated that they “found no evidence regarding the use of ‘human shields’ by Hezbollah.” In fact, the commission was provided with compelling evidence of exactly that—including, inter alia, general statements from UN experts like Jan Egeland regarding Hezbollah’s “cowardly blending […] among women and children”; and specific reports on Hezbollah’s forced use of human shields such as one documenting that “Hezbollah fighters had killed a man who was trying to leave Bint Jbail” (28 July 2006 New York Times article, in the UN Watch submission).
Despite all of this, the commissioners attempt to save their honor by pleading they were “bound by the mandate” given them. Conceding that “any independent, impartial and objective investigation into a particular conduct during the course of hostilities must of necessity be with reference to all the belligerents involved,” they then devote two incoherent paragraphs to the argument that they somehow met that standard by “taking account” of Hezbollah’s conduct—even though they could not investigate “actions by Hezbollah in Israel.” (Pars. 14-15, emphasis original). However, the commissioners’ claim to have given a “broad interpretation” to their mandate (par. 5) is belied by their failure—whatever the justifications—to examine more than one side.
It did not have to be this way. The commissioners could have followed the example of other UN experts who displayed independence and moral courage by defying the OIC’s subversion of the Human Rights Council and of international human rights law as a whole. That is what Asma Jahangir did when, as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, she was instructed by an OIC-drafted resolution to produce a report on “defamation of religions.” The OIC expected to coopt her in their year-long campaign at the UN to justify the violence that followed the Danish cartoon controversy. But Jahangir refused to be used a pawn. Instead, her report challenged the very premise of the OIC’s instruction by asserting that human rights law protects individuals, not religions—and that “criminalizing defamation of religion can be counter-productive.” By risking the powerful opposition of the 56-strong Islamic bloc to her next UN candidacy, Jahangir demonstrated why she was recognized by Time Magazine as an “Asian Hero.”
Similarly, a group of four other Council rapporteurs—on health, housing and internally-displaced persons, led by NYU law professor Philip Alston, the expert on extra-judicial executions—showed that they were willing to take on the OIC attempt to subvert the Council for narrow political ends. Following the August 11 special session that established the one-sided inquiry, these four initiated their own report on alleged Israeli and Hezbollah violations. For attempting this balance, however, they were lambasted by over 25 OIC and OIC-allied countries when they presented their report to the Council in October. Alston and his colleagues, like Jahangir, have also now put their UN careers in the crosshairs of the OIC.
In the space of only five months, the Human Rights Council—by devoting 100% of its censures (in four resolutions and three special sessions) to condemning Israel, and none to the rest of the world, including the genocide in Darfur and gross violations in China, Myanmar and Sri Lanka—has already earned its place in history’s hall of infamy. Joining them now, through their contribution to the further subversion of the Council and international human rights law, are commissioners João Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania, and Stelios Perrakis of Greece.
Following is the UN Watch submission that the commissioners summarily noted in an annex but entirely ignored in the content of their report.
Click for full UN Watch Submission to Lebanon Inquiry
Human Rights Council
Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon
c/o Ms. Maggie Nicholson, Secretary
United Nations Office Geneva
Palais des Nations, Room A-580
October 20, 2006
Dear Messrs. Soares, Perrakis, and Othman,
As requested by Ms. Nicholson’s September 22 letter, enclosed please find materials relevant to your inquiry into the recent conflict in Lebanon. It was announced that you have already gathered information on alleged Israeli violations. The attached materials, from credible sources including leading non-governmental organizations, document Hezbollah violations during the conflict and thus provide a needed supplement.
Although resolution S-2/1 speaks only of Israeli violations, this in no way prevents you from considering the context of the conflict and making a balanced examination of both sides. Indeed, principles of fundamental justice require that you do just that.
Such an examination would not be unprecedented. The Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose mandate also refers only to Israeli violations, has recognized that consideration of the full picture is not only possible, but required. As he wrote in his most recent annual report, “[t]he Special Rapporteur’s mandate does not extend to human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority. It would, however, be irresponsible for a human rights special rapporteur to allow the execution of Palestinian prisoners to go unnoticed. . .”
Likewise, we appeal to your sense of professionalism and integrity in the hope that you will not allow the gross violations of Hezbollah to go unnoticed. Only by providing a full and balanced analysis will your inquiry commission be able to credibly contribute to the cause of peace in the Middle East, and to restoring the reputation of the Council.
Hillel C. Neuer
Index of Documents
United Nations documents
|Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General Debate on the Situation in Lebanon (CERD/C/SR.1763)||Member of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Mr. Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.||Remarks concerning Hezbollah’s intentional targeting of Israeli civilians||3 Aug. 2006|
|Selected Statements by UN Officials on Hezbollah’s actions||UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland||Condemnations by senior UN officials of Hezbollah’s “provocative attack” on Israel, “indiscriminate shelling” of Israeli cities, and use of civilians as shields||15 Aug. 2006|
|Letter to Mr. Marc Bossuyt, Chairman of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights||Member of the UN Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, David Rivkin, Jr.||A letter outlining Hezbollah’s “wanton disregard for the laws and customs of war throughout its entire existence”||16 Aug. 2006|
|Report of four UN Special Rapporteurs on their Mission to Lebanon and Israel (A/HRC/2/7)||Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Phillip Alston; Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt; Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin; Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari||A report on the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel finding that Hezbollah violated international human rights and humanitarian law, including using cluster munitions and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians||2 Oct. 2006|
|Human Rights Annual Report 2006||United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office||A report on “major countries of concern” highlighting Syria’s support of Hezbollah and Hezbollah’s targeting of Israeli civilians||12 Oct. 2006|
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) reports
|Hezbollah: The Face of Global Terror||The American Jewish Committee||A broad overview of Hezbollah’s objectives, capabilities, major terrorist operations, international criminal activities, and supporters||July 2006|
|Lebanon: Hezbollah Rocket Attacks on Haifa Designed to Kill Civilians||Human Rights Watch||An article on Hezbollah’s use of rockets containing anti-personnel ball bearings which were intended to maximize harm to civilians||18 July 2006|
|Israel Under Rocket Attack: A Profile of Displacement and Destruction||Frances Raday, The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights||A report documenting the deaths, injuries and displacement of civilians in northern Israel as a result of Hezbollah’s indiscriminate attacks||Aug. 2006|
|Hezbollah Must End Attacks on Civilians||Human Rights Watch||A report finding that Hezbollah’s deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians is “without doubt a war crime”||5 Aug. 2006|
|Civilians in Israel Killed by Hezbollah Rockets||Human Rights Watch||A list of the 39 Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks between July 12 and August 12, 2006||5 Aug. 2006|
|Hizbullah’s deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians, and Under Fire: Hizbullah’s attacks on northern Israel (press release and report, respectively)||Amnesty International||A press release and report documenting serious violations of international law amounting to war crimes by Hezbollah, as well as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statements expressing his commitment to target Israeli civilians||14 Sept. 2006|
|Hezbollah Hit Israel with Cluster Munitions During Conflict||Human Rights Watch||A report on Hezbollah’s illegal use of cluster ammunitions against Israeli civilians||18 Oct. 2006|
News media articles
|Christians Fleeing Lebanon Denounce Hezbollah||Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times||An article describing Hezbollah’s use of human shields and refusal to allow civilians to leave areas used to launch Hezbollah rockets against Israel||28 July 2006|
|Hezbollah’s deadly hold on heartland||Sonia Verma, National Post (Canada)||An article describing Hezbollah’s systematic use of hospitals, mosques, and other civilian infrastructure to launch rocket attacks against Israeli civilians||5 Aug. 2006|