As the UN Human Rights Council prepares to consider the Goldstone Report against Israel's actions in Gaza, a key discussion next week will revolve around a Palestinian-backed resolution that could send the issue to The Hague.
The Council, which is set to meet Tuesday in Geneva, will debate a draft resolution that calls for the endorsement of the report, with a vote expected Thursday or Friday. The report, mandated by the Council and executed by a fact-finding mission led by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, sharply accuses Israel of crimes against humanity and possible war crimes. Its key recommendation would enable the Security Council to send the matter to the International Criminal Court.
On Tuesday, the Council will hear first from Goldstone and from the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, who issued a report on the situation in August. Observers said the Council was giving the debate high priority.
"This council has already declared Israel guilty," said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. "Tuesday will be a lynch mob."
According to Reuters, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said his country will push the UN Security Council to discuss the Goldstone Report, saying there should be "accountability" for anyone guilty of war crimes in Gaza.
"We will definitely take the position to discuss this issue on the Security Council," he reportedly said.
"We're in favor of opening discussions on the Goldstone report and whoever is the guilty party, they should be identified and face the necessary sanctions," concluded Erdogan.
Israeli officials, who did not cooperate with the inquiry, have blasted the mandate and report as inherently biased and expressed their expectation that the United States would veto any resolution that would send the matter to The Hague. American officials have indicated they want the matter to play out in the Human Rights Council only.
"Despite its flaws, the place for this report to be discussed remains in the [Human Rights] Council," Ambassador Susan Rice, the US permanent representative to the UN, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
In informal discussions, the Europeans and Americans said they would engage constructively in the debate, but it is unclear how the European Union will vote.
"I think even if they abstain or vote no, they will put in a significant qualifier lending some respect to the report," said Neuer.
"They want to see the principles of accountability and impunity and [for] there [to] be some kind of investigation."
On Friday, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to European Union member states, calling on them to endorse the report and "promote an international order where no state is above the law."
The letter, which cites the report's findings of human rights violations by Israel and Hamas, encourages EU states to allow the findings to be submitted to the relevant UN bodies for follow-up.
HRW said it was concerned about procedural arguments that could question whether Goldstone's mission had a mandate to make recommendations beyond the Human Rights Council.
"The Goldstone report offers a unique opportunity to break the cycle of impunity that has for too long undermined prospects for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Lotte Leicht, HRW's EU director, said in a statement.
"The EU should not let this opportunity go to waste."
Last week, US officials sent confusing signals to Jewish leaders after an off-the-record conference call, prompting the White House to clarify how it would handle the Goldstone report.
In the call, reported by the JTA, a White House official told Jewish organizational leaders that the US strategy was to "quickly" bring the report to its "natural conclusion" within the Human Rights Council. But Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, then called JTA to say the official "misspoke" in saying the US would prevent the recommendations from reaching the International Criminal Court.
Ambassador Susan Rice, the US permanent representative, has expressed serious concerns with the report and its mandate, which she called "unbalanced, one-sided and unacceptable."
She has not said what the US would do if the report is referred to the ICC.
Speaking to reporters at the United Nations on September 17, Rice indicated the US wanted to see the matter taken up by the Human Rights Council. In the Washington Post interview, she added: "The fundamental problem with this particular report is it was hatched with a bias inherent in its mandate."
"It comes from a body whose track record and history is one of focusing unduly and excessively on one country, Israel," she said. Noting the disproportionate criticism of Israel, she said: "The weight of the report is something like 85 percent oriented towards very specific and harsh condemnation and conclusions related to Israel, and very sort of lightly, treats, without great specificity, Hamas' terrorism and its own atrocities," Rice said.
"So in that respect it remains unbalanced, although obviously less so than it might have been, and so that is still a source of significant concern."