Schabas to quit UNHRC Gaza probe over Israeli bias claims

"This work in defense of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks," Schabas says of his involvement in the inquiry.

William Schabas  (photo credit: screenshot)
William Schabas
(photo credit: screenshot)
Canadian legal expert William Schabas said on Monday he would resign his post as head of a UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war, after Israel charged that he had worked as a consultant for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012.
In a letter on  the matter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report, which is due to be published in March.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said that Schabas’ resignation was another “diplomatic victory” for Israel and the dedicated hard working staff in his ministry.
“It proves that even the biggest hypocrites in international bodies can not ignore the fact that appointing Schabas to investigate Israel was like appointing Cain to investigate who killed Abel,” he said.
Liberman added that he did not believe Schabas’ departure, however, would change the nature of the report, which is expected to condemn Israel.
Schabas' departure highlights the sensitivity of the UN investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories.
In the letter, Schabas said a legal opinion he wrote for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012, for which he was paid $1,300, was not different from advice he had given to many other governments and organizations.
"My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public," he wrote. "This work in defense of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks."
Schabas said his work for the PLO had prompted the Human Rights Council's executive on Monday to seek legal advice about his position from UN headquarters.
"I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed," he wrote.
He added that the three member legal panel, which he heads, had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report.
The August appointment of Schabas to head the three-member commission of inquiry was welcomed at the time by Hamas but was harshly criticized by Israel.
It charged that Schabas had already displayed bias and therefor could not be an honest legal arbiter into the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, known as Operational Protective Edge.
Schabas, Israel said, had participated in the Russell Tribunal, a citizens’ group of legal experts and activists that works to hold Israel accountable for violations of international law.
When talking about Western leaders that should be placed before the International Criminal Court, Schabas had said at the Russell Tribunal in New York in 2012: “My favorite would be [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu in the dock.”
Israel further charged that the UNHRC commission of inquiry was the equivalent of a “kangaroo court,” and said that it would not cooperate with the investigation. Israel therefore, refused to grant its members entry into Gaza or the the West Bank.
The UNHRC Gaza probe conducted its work from Geneva and Jordan, either through face-to-face testimony or through Skype conversations as well as written submission.
The UNHRC has dismissed Israel's charges of bias and said that the commission of inquiry is looking into the behavior of both Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Schabas in August said he was determined to put aside any views about "things that have gone on in the past".