UN rights chief unable to defend appointment of BDS campaigner Navi Pillay to inquiry on Israel

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In a UNHRC interactive dialogue today with UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer asked her to comment on the appointment of Navi Pillay, who has repeatedly lobbied governments against Israel, as Chair of the new commission of inquiry on Israel. In her reply, delivered after statements by some 40 speakers, Bachelet failed to respond to Neuer’s questions or to defend the appointment of Pillay. See full text below.

Michelle Bachelet

Testimony by Hillel Neuer before the United Nations Human Rights Council, March 4, 2022, after a report presented by High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

High Commissioner, your report is entitled, “The Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the obligation to ensure accountability and justice.”

At page 11, you cite Resolution 30/1, which also speaks of “justice and respect for the rule of law.”

And so today we ask: Do you believe, High Commissioner, that this Council is ensuring justice and the rule of law?

You mention, at paragraph 34, that the Council created a new commission of inquiry in May 2021.

This inquiry is special.  It has an unusually broad mandate to investigate all violations connected to the war that month between Hamas and Israel, as well as incidents in Jerusalem in April, and all events leading up to that period, and since.

Second, unlike all previous inquiries, this one has an all-encompassing mandate to investigate the “root causes of current tensions,” including alleged “systematic discrimination” on the basis of race.

Finally, whereas all other inquiries have a defined term—typically for a year, to produce one report—this inquiry on Israel is the only one mandated to report “on an annual basis.” For perpetuity. The size of the inquiry’s budget and staff, costing millions of dollars, is also unprecedented.

For its most substantial inquiry ever, one would expect special care in choosing its Chair. Yet in July, the Council appointed Ms. Navi Pillay — despite a bipartisan Congressional letter from 2012 documenting how she “repeatedly demonstrated bias against the State of Israel.”

In the Bible it is written: “Justice, Justice shalt thou pursue.” Why does Justice appear twice? To teach us that the methods we use to pursue justice must also be just.

Was appointing Ms. Pillay just?

High Commissioner, under Guidelines published by your office in 2015, a chair of a commission of inquiry must have “a proven record of independence and impartiality,” which can be impacted by “prior public statements.”

Let us consider the statements of Ms. Pi­­­­­­­llay, Chair of the new inquiry. On 31 May 2010, she declared that “the Israeli government treats international law with perpetual disdain.” In November 2017, she accused Israel of “apartheid.” In a May 2021 lecture, she did it again—and she described Israel’s actions as “inhuman.”

But it’s not only statements. Ms. Pillay has actually lobbied governments. In June 2020, she signed an appeal, organized by the South African Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Coalition, entitled “Sanction Apartheid Israel!

Her petition condemned “Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime,” campaigned for countries to “ban military-security cooperation with Israel,” and urged them to impose sanctions.

On 14 June 2021, she co-signed a letter to U.S. President Biden, decrying Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinian people.” She called on the U.S. to “address the root causes of the violence” by ending Israel’s “ever-expanding discrimination and systemic oppression.” She referred directly to the events of April.

High Commissioner, is the Council pursuing justice by putting at the head of its most important investigation an individual who has publicly lobbied governments to condemn and sanction one of the parties—and on the very issues that are the object of her inquiry?

High Commissioner, would you not agree that allowing this grave injustice to stand will not only undermine the credibility of the inquiry, but risk casting a shadow upon the reputation of the United Nations as a whole?

Justice, Justice shalt thou pursue.

Thank you.

UN Watch