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A European non-government organization has called on the UN to remove a British academic from its recent inquiry into alleged human rights, over statements made rejecting Israel's right to self-defense against rocket attacks.
Geneva-based UN Watch submitted a 28-page legal brief to the UN last week calling on the UN fact-finding mission to disqualify London School of Economics law professor Christine Chinkin over prior statements she made that bring her impartiality in question.
According to the NGO, in previous statements Chinkin has "categorically rejected" Israel's right to self-defense against rocket attacks from Gaza and accused Israel of "aggression" and "prima facie war crimes."
UN Watch was referring to a letter published in the Sunday Times newspaper in January, during Operation Cast Lead, in which Chinkin - an expert in human rights, international and UN law - declares Israel as the aggressor and perpetrator of "war crimes."
The letter began by rejecting Israel's right to claim self-defense against Hamas rocket attacks, "deplorable as they are."
While the statement includes a passing reference to crimes committed by Hamas, says UN Watch, the entire statement is devoted to the thesis that Israel was guilty - the very accusations the inquiry is meant to impartially examine, the NGO said.
UN Watch said that under international law, fact-finders in the area of human rights must be impartial. This has been repeatedly emphasized by the inquiry members - that their terms of reference, as received from the president of the UN Human Rights Council, are impartial.
"International law and the rules of due process require fact-finders in the human rights field to be impartial," said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. "That means being free of any commitment to a preconceived outcome.
"The legal requirement for impartiality as developed by international tribunals, whose principles fully apply to quasi-judicial fact-finders, is absence of bias or even the appearance of bias," Neuer added.
UN Watch has demanded that Chinkin immediately step down from the inquiry, or that she be disqualified by the other UN fact-finders, or by the new UN Human Rights Council president, Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen of Belgium.
"The reasonable person would consider Prof. Chinkin to be partial after she publicly declared the guilt of one of the concerned parties on the very case and controversy under consideration. Therefore, if justice is to be done, and to be seen to be done, the only remedy is Prof. Chinkin's recusal, or her disqualification by the Mission or the Human Rights Council president," Neuer said.
With the enquiry set to assess if Israel has violated international human rights law and international humanitarian law during Operation Cast Lead, Chinkin has declared that Israel is guilty of both charges, according to the NGO. It said the mission cannot claim to be operating with an open mind when one of its members has already made up hers.
The petition cites authorities of international law, including a 2004 precedent of the international tribunal for Sierra Leone, in which Justice Geoffrey Robertson was disqualified by his fellow judges over the appearance of bias.
In published comments made prior to that case, Robertson had alleged that various war crimes were committed by an organization connected to the defendants. By coincidence, one of the lawyers who helped win that precedent is now a researcher for the Goldstone fact-finding mission, whose report will be presented to the council in September.
"The remedy applied in Sierra Leone should apply here," Neuer said. "Never in the history of international tribunals and fact-finding panels has there been a more overt case of actual bias in the form of an arbiter's prior determination of the merits of a particular case in controversy.
"Justice Goldstone has promised that the mission would be impartial," Neuer said. "Even if, somehow, one were to conceive of an argument as to how Prof. Chinkin has not demonstrated actual bias, there is nevertheless the objective appearance of bias."