louise arbour 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
When the UN Human Rights Council on Friday hears from its commission of inquiry on "the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon," - the commission's report is now on-line - there will be no surprises. By neglecting to treat the actions of Hizbullah, the commissioners dutifully obeyed the mandate authored by Hassan Nasrallah's patrons, Iran and Syria, together with 20 other Islamic states, at an August 11 council session that was discredited as one-sided by Western democracies and rights groups.
The 135-page report by commissioners Jo o Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil, Mohamed Chande Othman of Tanzania and Stelios Perrakis of Greece, appointed by council president Luis de Alba of Mexico, amounts to an unmitigated denunciation of Israel and a whitewash of Hizbullah violence.
It is bad enough that the commissioners knowingly undertook a mission directed against only one side of a conflict, a priori excluding consideration of Hizbullah's July 12 attack that provoked the clash and its firing of 4,000 missiles against Israeli civilians.
Worse, though: Even as to that one party, there was never to be any real inquiry. The August meeting already declared the verdict: Israel was guilty - of the "massacre of thousands of civilians," and more. The commissioners were appointed only to elaborate on Israel's prejudged guilt. This they have done.
The report that will be presented on Friday adopts Hizbullah's version of history, of this summer's conflict, and of international law.
FIRST, THE organization is introduced as a reasonable outgrowth of unprovoked Israeli aggression. "During the 1980s," says the report, "Israel carried out frequent military operations, including shellings and air attacks." Excluded were facts like the preceding takeover of Southern Lebanon by Yasser Arafat and 15,000 PLO guerillas, their massive artillery assault against villagers in the Galilee, and 270 terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians in the 12 months leading up to June 1982. These details just didn't fit the narrative.
Instead the commissioners voice Hizbullah's claim - which they repeat without ever challenging it - to be a legitimate "armed resistance against Israel's unlawful occupation of Lebanese territory." The report's passing reference to Israel's UN-certified withdrawal in the year 2000 artfully obscured the world body's rejection of Hizbullah's claim regarding the Shaba Farms, which is a rejection of Hizbullah's declared raison d'etre.
Second, the commissioners render Hizbullah's flouting of Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680 as mere "non-compliance," or, even daintier, as "non full implementation." Worse, they diminish those resolutions to the single requirement that Hizbullah disarm - omitting its equal obligation to disband. Recalling that international law requires Hizbullah's outright dismantling, once again, simply did not fit the narrative.
THIRD, AND by far their greatest lapse, is the commissioners' selective approach to evidence. Statements by any Lebanese source - including Hizbullah-linked organizations and individuals like former minister of labor Trad Hmadeh - are accepted fully.
By contrast, the commissioners disregarded submissions to them by Amnesty International, UN Watch and other NGOs regarding Hizbullah violations. The report does this not only in its fundamental failure to address Hizbullah actions as a subject in itself, but even in the few areas where, in criticizing Israeli actions, it purports to consider relevant Hizbullah activities.
For example, the commissioners insist they had "no evidence" of Hizbullah's use of human shields or its Al-Manar TV station's incitement of war crimes. This is false. The UN Watch submission alone provided the commissioners with credible evidence of Hizbullah's resort to human shields - such as their killing of a man trying to leave Bint Jbail - as well as expert testimony on Al-Manar's role in encouraging suicide bombings.
Despite all of this, the commissioners try to save their honor by pleading that they were "bound by the mandate" they willfully accepted. More bizarrely, they concede that "any independent, impartial and objective investigation... must of necessity be with reference to all the belligerents involved" - but then explain that investigating Hizbullah would have exceeded their powers.
THEY COULD have acted differently. Asma Jahangir, the UN's religious freedom expert, proved it. In June, the council's Islamic states won adoption of a resolution instructing her to report on "defamation of religions"- part of their ongoing campaign to stoke the flames of outrage over the Danish Muhammad cartoons. To their horror, however, the exercise backfired: Jahangir reported that human rights law was about protecting individuals, not religions.
Independent experts can defy politically-motivated attempts to subvert the council. It just takes courage.
With malice and indifference the fledgling council has been turned into a body that ignores violations in 191 countries, including many mass abuses, instead reserving 100% of its condemnations for Israel alone. Human rights mechanisms are being exploited for political demonization.
A credible inquiry, High Commissioner Louise Arbour urged in August, would have to address "all violations by all parties." With a little courage, commissioners Soares, Othman and Perrakis could have found the discretion to heed Arbour's plea and contribute a modicum of balance. But they had their orders.
The writer, based in Geneva, is executive director of UN Watch and editor of www.unwatch.org