BREAKING NEWS: Reuters is now reporting that William Schabas has quit as head of the UN’s controversial commission of inquiry on Gaza, in wake of bias accusations revealing he conducted paid legal work for the PLO.
ANALYSIS: After insisting repeatedly that he would never step down, Schabas’ resignation due to bias is a major embarrassment for the UN Human Rights Council and its ill-fated Gaza inquiry. Recall that George Clooney’s wife, Amal Alamuddin, had quit on the same day the UN announced her appointment.
News of Schabas’ resignation only highlights the fact that he and others like him are selected by the UNHRC precisely because of their biased positions, and it rightly puts the entire system on the defensive.
That a law professor failed to disclose that he recently performed paid legal work for one of the sides in the conflict that he was meant to judge is astounding, and confirms that Schabas was operating with a broken moral compass.
THE BACKSTORY: Schabas’ decision to resign follows a massive and sustained campaign by UN Watch over five months.
Key moments of the campaign:
- On August 11, 2014, the day Schabas was named head of the UN’s Gaza probe, UN Watch sprang into action, demanding he step down on account of his prior statements against Israel. UN Watch immediately released videos and quotes showing Schabas’ extreme prejudice, which were picked up worldwide.
- Schabas fought back, arguing: “I have opinions like everybody else about the situation in Israel. They may not be the same as Hillel Neuer’s or Benjamin Netanyahu’s, that’s all.”
- The Daily Beast reported: “Schabas has faced the harshest criticism from Hillel Neuer, the head of the Geneva-based advocacy group UN Watch.”
- UN Watch launched an online petition and published a call for legal scholars to speak out. Over time, leading law professors and human rights activists — including a number of Schabas’ own colleagues — spoke out.
- UN Watch filed a motion and major legal brief demanding Schabas’ recusal.
- In a tense, private meeting with Schabas and the other two commissioners, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer told them why the UN Human Rights Council was biased, why the resolution creating their mandate was biased, and why Schabas was legally disqualified because of his prejudicial statements that, at a minimum, created the reasonable apprehension of bias.
- UN Watch handed Schabas the motion demanding that he step down. Schabas became angry and snapped at Neuer, “And who is the reasonable man — you?”
- UN Watch filed an official written statement on the motion to remove Schabas, causing it to be circulated by the United Nations to all country delegates as an official document (A/HRC/27/NGO/112).
- In a dramatic debate, UN Watch Executive Director appeared before the plenary of the UN Human Rights Council to demand Schabas’ recusal, and to argue the legal motion. (See speech & video below).
- UN Watch revealed that one of the world’s most famous human rights figures called on Schabas to step down.
- In the end, with the pressure mounting, William Schabas has finally quit.
NEXT STEPS: UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to create an independent inquiry to determine whether Schabas’ undeclared conflict of interest has now irretrievably tainted the UNHRC’s Gaza probe. The new inquiry should also investigate how Schabas was selected, and whether the UNHRC knew about his paid legal work for the PLO.
“The only remedy is Prof. Schabas’ recusal”
Testimony by UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer before
the UN Human Rights Council, September 23, 2014
Mr. President, we gather at a perilous moment in world affairs. International borders are trampled and dissolved before our eyes, masses are killed and exiled, atrocities are celebrated. The need to appeal to and affirm basic principles of international law and human rights has, perhaps, never been greater.
And so today, with the UN Watch legal brief that has been circulated before you, and before all of the distinguished representatives of this chamber—in the form of UN document NGO/112, which has been placed on the agenda of today’s debate—the community of international law has an opportunity, and a choice. It can choose to speak out to defend the international rule of law, or allow it to be trampled and dissolved.
Last Wednesday, I was invited to meet the commission of inquiry on Gaza, appointed by this council. I informed the chair, Professor William Schabas, that we would be presenting today’s legal brief. It recalls that the international rule of law requires UN fact-finders to be impartial, and to be seen as impartial.
I told him that while we respected his academic accomplishments, he is legally obliged to recuse himself on account of his prior statements and actions that give rise to the appearance of bias.
I reminded Professor Schabas that on 17 July 2014, speaking on the very conflict he is meant to examine, he told the BBC that Israel is presumptively guilty of war crimes, saying: “Prima facie, there is evidence of disproportionality in the response that Israel is undertaking.” Similarly, in November 2012, speaking of favorite defendants, Professor Schabas declared: “My favorite would be Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court.”
How can someone be a plaintiff one day, and then the next, act as a judge?
Our brief, available at www.schabasreport.com, details his many other prejudicial statements which give rise to the reasonable apprehension of bias.
Legal scholars—whom Professor Schabas himself cites in his books—are speaking out. Writing in The Times of London, Lord David Pannick, QC, the former British judge and leading human rights lawyer, stated that there is the appearance of bias.
Therefore, if justice is to be done—and to be seen to be done—the only remedy is Prof. Schabas’ recusal.