UN plenary silences NGO challenge to impartiality of Goldstone Follow-Up panel

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.


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.


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