The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed Makarim Wibisono – an Indonesian diplomat who has expressed pro-Palestinian views – on Thursday to a six-year term as its special investigator of Israeli actions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
In a surprising move, UNHRC President Baudelaire Ndong Ella gave the post to Wibisono after disregarding the three vetted candidates that a UNHRC consultative group of five member states put forward.
The investigator’s reports to the UNHRC carry weight within the larger UN system and impact its legal stance on Israel.
Wibisono replaces US legal expert Richard Falk, who had advocated boycotting Israeli settlements, said that Israel had “genocidal” intentions toward the Palestinians, and endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories.
To calm the waters after Falk, the UN consultative group had tapped American legal expert Christina Cerna of Georgetown University, because she was a neutral candidate who had not taken a public stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Arab League wrote a letter of protest and called for the appointment of British legal expert Christine Chinkin, who helped author the controversial 2009 Goldstone Report on Israeli military activity in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. The UN consultive group listed her as its second choice.
Ndong Ella had initially agreed to appoint her at the end of March, when he presented the UNHRC with a list of 19 nominees for investigatory positions on a wide array of human rights issues. But member states complained that the list favored men over women, and certain parts of the globe over others.
After a long series of conversations among member states, Ndong Ella presented a new list on Thursday, at which point he exercised his powers as president of the council to ignore the vetted candidates in favor of an appointee he favored – in this case, Wibisono.
He made other changes, such as dropping Israel Doron – an Israeli citizen who was initially tapped for the post of independent expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons – in favor of Chilean Rosa Kornfeld-Matte.
No Israelis were among the 19 appointments.
In spite of the objections of countries such as the US, Falk’s wife, Hilal Elvar of Turkey, remained on the list and was appointed on Thursday as the UNHRC special rapporteur on the right to food.
At Thursday’s UNHRC debate, a number of countries, including Peru and Argentina, continued to object to the list.
Saoud El-Saadi, a representative of Kuwait, asked Ndong Ella to explain the procedure by which the vetted candidates for Wibisono’s post had been set aside.
“How was the name arrived at?” he asked.
Ndong Ella seemed startled by the question and responded that the request for an alternative candidate had come from Saadi’s own group.
“You are from the Arab group, and you must know how the procedure occurred, since I carried out this procedure with your group and I did so at the request of certain members of your group,” Ndong Ella said.
He explained that Wibisono had been one of 10 candidates who had initially applied for the position.
“I respected procedures by interviewing the candidates. I clarified that there were two that were not interviewed. I interviewed them. I chose the candidate who not only corresponded to the [UN] criteria, but also the person [who met] the expectations of the concerned parties in the system,” he said.
Ndong Ella said there had been irreconcilable differences regarding this position, and that Wibisono’s appointment had erased that gridlock.
In March, Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, had predicted that Wibisono would get the post.
At the time, he had charged that Wibisono was problematic because in the past he had “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.’” Neuer said that “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.’” 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.