In the next two weeks, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will select a new Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”
This job, created “to investigate Israel’s violations of the principles and bases of international law,” is an integral part of the systematic bias toward Israel that plagues almost every corner of the UN. While there are Rapporteurs examining situations in other countries, the Rapporteur for the Palestinians, established in 1993, is the only position that never expires. Moreover, despite the deceptive title, the mandate itself is expressly one-sided – only Israel is to be pilloried, while the actions of Palestinians are excluded from scrutiny.
As documented by UN Watch, the group’s first choice, Penelope Green from the UK, and second choice Michael Lynk of Canada, both have extensive histories in anti-Israel activism and promoting BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions). Even more disturbing, both candidates have expressed highly troubling sentiments about terrorism.
If the UN were a respectable and responsible institution, Green and Lynk would have been immediately disqualified from consideration. One of the cornerstones of human rights monitoring and credible fact finding is a commitment to impartiality.
According to scholars Thomas Franck and Scott Fairley, impartiality is “functional prerequisite,” without which fact-finding can only be seen as “propaganda” used to “support generally per-conceived political views.” Similarly, the International Bar Association’s Lund London Guidelines on fact-finding require objectivity and “individuals who are and are seen to be unbiased.”
Professor Frederic Magret notes that expressions of polemics and activism all weigh against impartiality.
Even the UN’s own candidate selection criteria require as of “paramount importance” impartiality and objectivity.
Apparently, though, when it comes to Israel, the UNHRC and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which facilitates the appointment process, feel unbound by these rules.
Instead, anti-Israel bias and politicization are the most important qualifications for a job relating to the conflict, outweighing commitment to institutional requirements, fairness, due process and other human rights and good governance principles.
The recommendation of Green and Lynk for the Rapporteur position is not an isolated incident.
In 2001, the Commission on Human Rights (predecessor to the UNHRC, disbanded in 2006 for extreme politicization and bias) appointed South African lawyer John Dugard as Rapporteur. Dugard has long been a leading figurehead of the BDS movement including promoting the “apartheid” canard. In an interview with Democracy Now, Dugard pronounced he had “no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.” In 2004, in calling for his dismissal, the ADL remarked that Dugard was “using his official position as a UN fact-finder to present his personal anti-Israel views.”
Dugard’s replacement was the equally prejudiced Richard Falk. Falk promotes an immoral so-called “right to resistance,” which essentially excuses Palestinian terrorism. Falk’s inflammatory rhetoric includes accusing Israel of having “genocidal intentions” toward the Palestinians. He used his position at the UN to advance BDS and the international isolation of Israel.
He also distinguished himself by being rebuked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after making 9/11 “truther” comments. The US and Canada demanded his resignation after he posted an anti-Semitic cartoon on his blog.
Institutional bias at the UNHRC also means that highly qualified individuals without anti-Israel animus are routinely passed in favor of radical ideologues and demagogues.
In 2014, Christina Cerna, a well-respected expert and former member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, applied to replace Falk and was considered to be the leading candidate. Yet, she eventually was rejected for not being sufficiently anti-Israel.
Cerna remarked, in the aftermath, that when it comes to Israel, “[i]mpartiality is not a requirement sought by the Council.” She further noted that “the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States both officially opposed me... because I had never said anything pro-Palestinian and consequently was not known to be ‘partial.’” Cerna applied again in 2016, only to be passed over in favor of Green and Lynk, confirming her pointed critique.
To be sure, the UNHRC’s problems go far beyond the pathological anti-Semitism and dysfunctional Israel obsession of the Arab League and the OIC, or the dominating voices of corrupt and repressive regimes at the UN.
This year’s committee to choose the rapporteurs included France, Thailand, Albania and Brazil. The OHCHR also plays a major role in guiding the selection process, and later will write the Rapporteur’s anti-Israel reports and statements.
At some point, one hopes that the UNHRC and the countries and officials that enable its abuse of ethics and rules will decide that universal principles are more important than politicization and ideology.
If the UNHRC, the OHCHR and the UN as a whole wanted to prove that they really care about human rights, rather than its exploitation, they should strive to appoint as Rapporteur individuals who are objective and impartial. They should also expand the Rapporteur’s mandate to include examination of violations by all actors in the Palestinian conflict.
And, most importantly, they should abide by their commitments to the principles that are meant to guide the workings of the UN.
The author is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem- based research institution.