Plus: Backgrounder on this Afternoon’s Flotilla Report
Geneva, September 27 – The U.N. chastised a non-governmental organization today after it challenged the independence and impartiality of the head of its Goldstone Report follow-up committee, noting he had performed work for Yasser Arafat and had a long record of describing Israel as a “state terrorist.”
Leon Saltiel of UN Watch, a Geneva-based watchdog organization, took the floor during today’s Human Rights Council debate (see statement below), after German professor Christian Tomuschat presented his panel’s new report.
In a rare reply from the dais, the chair of the council debate, Slovak Ambassador Fedor Rosocha, rejected UN Watch’s questions to Tomuschat, saying they failed to show respect to a specific member of the panel.
Tomuschat himself then responded, but without addressing the substance of UN Watch’s questions: “I would like to respond to UN Watch: I do believe in judicial settlement of disputes. It seems that UN Watch does not share this view.”
The council’s special focus on Israel resumes this afternoon with the presentation of the flotilla probe report. (See info at bottom.)
Statement by UN Watch
Agenda Item 7, UNHRC 15th Session
Interactive Dialogue with Tomuschat Expert Committee
(Goldstone Report Follow-Up)
As Delivered by Leon Saltiel, 27 September 2010
Thank you, Mr. President.
Professor Tomuschat, on November 27, 2009, after the Goldstone Report was published, Chatham House convened legal experts to examine its procedural aspects. We wish to ask you similar questions concerning your report.
Your report sets forth the duty of investigators to be independent. Paragraph 22 says that this means “being institutionally detached from those implicated in the events.”
In this regard, we call your attention to news reports that, in 1996, you helped prepare a legal brief for Yasser Arafat, in which you advised the PLO leader on how to bring his case before the UN and the ICJ.
You are quoted, in the 25 July report of the Jerusalem Post, as saying that your brief was objective; that it should not be regarded as a “blemish”; and that you “could not recall” whether this work was done on behalf of Mr. Arafat.
Professor Tomuschat, assuming that, with the passage of time, you have been able to recall your brief for Mr. Arafat and the PLO, would you not agree that this contravenes the principle of independence as defined in your own report?
Second, your report addresses the duty of impartiality—the question of whether an investigator is, or is likely to be, biased.
In this regard, the Chatham House legal experts cited the acute problem of individuals who “participate in fact-finding missions regarding conflicts on which they may have written in the past.”
UN Watch has published a report today that documents numerous examples of your use of inflammatory language and one-sided conclusions against Israel.
We note three:
- In 2002, and again in 2007, you cited Israel as your prime example of “State terrorism.” You wrote there was “little hope” its judicial system would conduct effective investigations. Is not this preconception, going back eight years, directly relevant to today’s report?
- In 2006, when the German academic journal Friedenswarte featured two opposing views on the Israel-Hezbollah war, you presented the side opposed to Israel.
- This past year, you accused Israel of bombing “entire families” on frivolous grounds.
Professor Tomuschat, would you not agree that these statements breach the Chatham House standard on perceived bias, and the standard of your own report?
Finally, we ask: How is it that, last month, at the same time as Hamas openly claimed credit for murdering four Israelis—an act of terror condemned by the High Commissioner—your committee was engaging with it as a serious stakeholder that might investigate its crimes against civilians?
Thank you, Mr. President.
BACKGROUNDER ON UNHRC FLOTILLA REPORT, TO BE PRESENTED THIS AFTERNOON
Geneva, Sept. 27 – The credibility of today’s UN Human Rights Council report on the May 31 flotilla incident is marred by a predetermined verdict, said UN Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The mandate of the probe violated due process and objectivity by presuming Israeli guilt from the outset,” said Hillel Neuer, UN Watch executive director. “It’s another example of what former UN rights chief Mary Robinson recently described as the unfortunate and regrettable practice by the council to adopt resolutions guided not by human rights but by politics.” [See Note 1]
According to Neuer, “by declaring Israel guilty before any facts were even collected, the resolution tainted the mission with prejudicial bias, and contravened the UN’s own Declaration on Fact Finding, which requires objectivity and impartiality.”
“It speaks volumes that Khaled Mashaal, the leader of the Hamas terrorist group, asked for this probe—literally for the council to create ‘another Goldstone report’—while the Palestinian Authority actually opposed it,” said Neuer.
“The perception of the council’s one-sided approach and lack of credibility is so severe that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office in New York has completely ignored this probe in seeking to establish their own.”
“Tragically, rather than contribute to defusing the Arab-Israeli conflict and bringing people together with an objective, human rights approach, the council has played a divisive role with inflammatory statements that only increase frictions,” said Neuer.
Background on Resolution HRC 14/1 Establishing the Probe:
The Resolution: Barely 48 hours after the incident, the probe was created by a June 2, 2010 council resolution, initiated by the council’s Islamic and Arab groups of states, that condemned Israel “in the strongest terms” as guilty of committing an “outrageous attack” on the flotilla. Despite video evidence already available at the time, the resolution omitted any reference to the beating of Israeli soldiers by Turkish IHH militants brandishing knives, axes and metal rods, and of their televised admissions to seeking Jihad and martyrdom.
Who Voted For It: Those countries voting in favor of the resolution included China, Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The U.S., Italy and Netherlands voted against it. France, Britain, Japan, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, Ukraine, South Korea, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Zambia, and Madagacar all abstained or deliberately chose to absent themselves.
Hamas Called for Probe: As the Human Rights Council was meeting for its urgent debate on the flotilla, Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal demanded the creation of a probe like the council’s 2009 Goldstone Report.
Addressing a crowd of masses in the Yemeni capital of Sana on June 1, Mashal accused Israel of committing serious crimes against the flotilla and urged the international community not to let the Jewish state escape punishment. Mashaal congratulated “all the countries and nations which stood by our side.”
“We need a new ‘Goldstone report,’ which will condemn Israel,” said Mashaal. “In addition, (Israeli Defense Minister Ehud) Barak, (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and all the Zionist leaders must be put on trail for being war criminals.” Mashaal thanked the sail’s participants and Turkey, and called on all Arab countries to adopt a similar policy to the one taken by Ankara against Israel.
Hamas has now praised the final report.
Palestinian Authority Opposed It: According to the Electronic Intifada news website, the Palestinian Authority actively sought to frustrate the Human Rights Council’s establishment of the probe, because its officials understood that it would strengthen Hamas, emboldening extremists over moderates.
 See Mary Robinson quote here, from Geneva’s Le Temps, Feb. 4, 2009.
 Roee Nahmias, “Mashal wants Goldstone report on sail,” Ynet, June 1, 2010.
5] Asa Winstanley, “Exclusive: Leaked documents show PA undermined Turkey’s push for UN flotilla probe,” The Electronic Intifada, 22 June 2010, at http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11350.shtml.