For only the third time in history, the States Parties to the Geneva Conventions met yesterday to condemn a country for violating the law of war. As on the previous two occasions, the country condemned was Israel.
After the Holocaust, the world gathered in Geneva to affirm the laws of war and enshrine the prohibition against targeting civilians.
One of the early champions of activating these legal conventions for the first time to single out Israel — while ignoring war crimes by Saddam, Qaddafi, and Arafat — was law professor William Schabas, who now chairs the UNHRC’s Commission of Inquiry on Gaza.
In 1999, before the International Criminal Court was even in operation, Schabas was an early campaigner for the indictment of Israeli leaders.
At a June 1999 Cairo meeting of the UN’s “Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” Schabas embraced an extraordinary session on Israel — the first time the treaty was enforced against any state or non-state actor — to be held by the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Schabas called the targeting of Israelis an “exciting opportunity.”
Speaking before opponents of Israel gathered from around the world, Schabas told the Cairo forum that member states were “under an obligation to prosecute” Israelis “suspected of committing grave breaches.” States are required to seek extradition of those whom Israel refuses to try, said Schabas.
If the result of threats of prosecution under article 146 would be “only to restrain the travel plans of Israeli civilian and military officials,” said Schabas, this may still constitute a “useful means of pressure.”
At a time when Islamic extremists are slaughtering men, women and children from Nigeria to Syria to Pakistan, and when Russia has swallowed Crimea and plunged eastern Ukraine into war, killing 4,700 and wounding 10,000 more, the world yesterday decided, as it did in 1999 and in 2001, to single out Israel alone for censure.
There was no condemnation of Hamas for firing thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians, or of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for inciting murderous terrorist attacks on the streets of Jerusalem, and against worshippers in a synagogue, all in gross breach of the Geneva Conventions, which the Palestinians signed earlier this year.
As NYU law professor Joseph Weiler noted in the European Journal of International Law, Schabas’ prior record of partisanship on this subject makes his a “self-evident case” where “the appearance of justice is compromised.”
Schabas is scheduled to present his report before the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015. Legally, however, he is obliged to recuse himself on account of his prior statements and actions which objectively create the appearance of bias.