Arab states have pressured the United Nations Human Rights Council to set aside its vetted candidate to monitor Israeli actions against Palestinians, according to the nongovernmental group UN Watch.
The UNHRC this Friday had been expected to hand the special investigatory position to American legal expert Christina Cerna of Georgetown University.
The UNHRC’s consultative group, made up of representatives from five states, unanimously chose Cerna last month out of ten potential candidates.
When the matter formally comes before the UNHRC on Friday, however, it is now likely to appoint Indonesian diplomat Makarim Wibisono to the six-year post of special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, according to UN Watch.
That decision is problematic because Indonesia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and Wibisono has already shown bias in his strong statements in favor of the Palestinians, said UN Watch executive director Neuer.
Wibisono has in the past “accused Israel of ‘unconscionable use of force against the Palestinians,’ ‘untenable acts of aggression,’ and of having a ‘policy of retribution against the entire Palestinian nation,’” according to Neuer.
“Wibisono has referred to the ‘stark and brutal nature of the policies pursued by the occupying power,’ accused Israel of being ‘the aggressor and the perpetrator of wanton violence,’ and repeatedly minimized Israeli suffering, speaking of ‘the handful of Israelis who have died,’ and of Israel’s battle with rocket and other terrorist attacks as a ‘flimsy pretext,’” Neuer said.
Cerna, in contrast, was viewed by the UNHRC consultative group as a neutral candidate because she had not publicly taken a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But the Arab League protested her candidacy. It noted that experience and expertise in the field were also important criteria for the post.
UN Watch has obtained a copy of a letter Yemen’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ali Mohamed Majawr wrote to the UNHRC on behalf of the Arab League.
Majawr charged that Cerna was unacceptable because she had “neither the expertise nor relevant experience of the Middle East situation.”
The choice of a candidate from a developed country was also problematic, Majawr wrote.
In general, Majawr said, the Arab League, he said, “would like to express our concern over discrimination toward developing countries while appointing mandate holders.”
UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said that the rapporteur is chosen by the the council’s President Baudelaire Ndong Ella, who is also the ambassador from Gabon. If he doesn't like the recommendation of the consultative group he has the authority to pick another candidate, he said.
Gomez added that he had not heard of any move to replace Cerna, but that technically speaking it could happen.
The UNHRC has 37 rapporteurs, of which 15 are for specific countries. But Israel is the only country to which a rapporteur is permanently assigned. Its mandate focuses solely on Israeli actions with regard to the Palestinians. The UNHRC is expected to appoint 19 rapporteurs on Friday, including for Israel.
The new candidate replaces Richard Falk, a professor emeritus from Princeton University, who was a particularly contentious rapporteur. Even before he was appointed in 2008, he made waves by comparing Israelis to Nazis.
Both the US and Canada have in the last years called for his dismissal from the job.
On Wednesday, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird tweeted a few lines about Falk.
“Delighted to hear of Richard Falk’s retirement from the UN. He will not be missed,” said Baird.
“Falk's outrageous anti-Semitic outbursts made a mockery of his role as a Special Rapporteur, and Canada repeatedly called for his removal,” Baird added.
Neuer who had also repeatedly called for Falk’s dismissal noted that the mandate was a larger problem than any single investigator.
"The real issue is not the nominees, but the biased position itself," said Neuer. "This is the only council mandate that requires the examination not of a given region but of only one side, with the specific instruction to investigate 'Israel's violations of international law' in the territories, while completely disregarding human rights abuses against women, Christians, and dissidents that are being committed by Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad or others."