UN expert on Chinkin: 'a basis for questioning the appearance of bias'

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Application of Christine Chinkin

London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin is now slated to replace Richard Falk as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, a position that, despite its title, in fact requires examining only “Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law.”
She had applied for the same post back in 2008, and was then shortlisted in second place after Falk.
Her chances improved this time after she served in 2009 as a key author of the infamous Goldstone Report, a document that effectively exonerated Hamas while excoriating Israel.
When Judge Goldstone later retracted the core accusation of the report, Chinkin joined with the two others to accuse him in all but name of misrepresenting facts in order to cast doubt on the credibility of their joint report.
Chinkin first made her name at the UN by serving with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the HRC’s 2006 inquiry into the deaths of 19 Palestinians killed in Beit Hanoun by errant Israeli shells. It is widely recognized that Chinkin oversaw the work of the panel.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour had initially tried to convince Canadian MP and law professor Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, to serve on the inquiry. He immediately declined, however citing the one-sided mandate, which “violated the presumption of innocence.”
“How could one accept a fact-finding mission with a prior determination of guilt, a kind of Alice in Wonderland inquiry, where the conviction was secured and the sentence passed even before the inquiry began?” Professor Cotler later said in a speech before the council plenary.
Yet Chinkin had no problem accepting and indeed embracing this mission, which, in Cotler’s words, “deliberately ignored Palestinian rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Sderot that preceded Israel’s actions.”
But it was her similar service on the equally biased HRC mandate given to the Goldstone Commission where Chinkin achieved notoriety, earning her a rare rebuke from one of her British legal colleagues. On January 11, 2009, during the Israel-Gaza conflict, the Sunday Times published a joint statement signed by Chinkin that declared Israel to be the aggressor, and a perpetrator of war crimes.
The letter began by “categorically rejecting” Israel’s right to claim self-defence against Hamas rocket attacks, “deplorable as they are.” The statement was devoted to the thesis that Israel was guilty — of the very accusations that the Goldstone Commission was meant to impartially examine. (See the article at p. 26 here.)
Asked about this by UN Watch during a May 2009 meeting with Geneva NGOs, Chinkin denied that her impartiality was compromised, saying that her statement only addressed the question of aggression, but not war crimes, which was the issue examined by her UN panel. But this was entirely untrue.
In fact, her statement not only determined that “Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence,” but additionally that they were “contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law,” and constituted “prima facie war crimes.”
While the commission was conducting its work in the summer of 2009, UN Watch submitted a detailed request for Chinkin to recuse herself. This was summarily dismissed by her Commission as a “so-called petition.”
Yet the argument in UN Watch’s request was entirely upheld in an article on the Goldstone Report by Sir Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee and a fellow English academic. While expressing general appreciation for Chinkin, Rodley openly criticized her failure to recuse herself from the mission, saying “there was regrettably a basis for questioning the appearance of bias” as a result of her public letter.
“If such a statement were made by a member of a standing fact-finding body,” wrote Rodley, “it could be expected that such a member would move to recuse himself or herself from the hearing of the issues.”
Chinkin was also criticized by a larger group of academics assembled by Chatham House, which, in diplomatic but unmistakable language, rebuked her by emphasizing that ”fact-finding missions should avoid any perception of bias,” that its members should not “act in a way that would damage their impartiality,” and should “therefore exercise great care when writing or speaking on international disputes that could potentially be subject to an investigation.”

UN Watch