US international law professor lead candidate to replace Falk

Christina Cerna could take over for Richard Falk, the UN investigator on human rights in the Palestinian territories.

UN Human Rights Council 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
UN Human Rights Council 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The leading candidate to replace UN investigator on human rights in the Palestinian territories Richard Falk is American international law professor Christina Cerna, the Human Rights Council announced on Wednesday.
It published a shortlist of three candidates, which it whittled down first from 10 and then from five.
The other two candidates on the shortlist are Christine Mary Chinkin of the United Kingdom and John Cerone from the US.
A final appointment for a six-year term to the post of UNHRC special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories will only be made on March 28.
But already in its announcement Wednesday, the UN’s Consultative Group for the UNHRC said that Cerna had their “unanimous support.”
Falk, a professor emeritus from Princeton University, whose six-year term expires this year, was a particularly contentious rapporteur, with the US and Canada calling for his dismissal. Even before he was appointed in 2008, he made waves by comparing Israelis to Nazis.
The consultative group noted that they liked that Cerna had not taken a public stand on the conflict.
The group is composed of ambassadors from five countries: the Republic of Korea, Morocco, Lithuania, Peru and Canada.
It explained that in its initial review process of the candidates, Cerna had “demonstrated not only an understanding of the various human rights issues at play and a realistic appreciation for the challenges that a mandate holder may face, but was also the most likely to be able to objectively engage the key interested parties, having not previously taken public positions on issues relevant to the mandate.”
In her application essay, Cerna said that she was born in Germany to a Nicaraguan father stationed there for the US army and to a mother from the former Yugoslavia.
Raised as a Catholic, she grew up in a Jewish section of Washington Heights in Manhattan.
“I have always been interested in Israel and the occupied territories, and visited for the first time in 1970 with students from my law school. I have returned twice since then,” Cerna wrote.
Her views about occupation, she said, were shaped by Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“To my surprise, the Cambodian people who had suffered a genocidal experience under Pol Pot were more interested in getting rid of their Vietnamese occupiers than trying the members of the Khmer Rouge,” she wrote.
The same is true in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said.
“The populations of those countries do not wish a residual presence to remain once the military troops are pulled out.”
“Occupation brings with it humiliation and anger and can only be relieved when the occupier departs,” she wrote.
According to the UN, Cerna chairs the International Human Rights Law Committee of the International Law Association. She recently retired from the Organization of American States, where she was a human rights specialist.
Chinkin, who almost made the shortlist in 2008, is a lawyer and a professor of international human rights law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
She has served on past fact-finding for the UNHRC on Israeli military activity in Gaza, including the 2009 Goldstone Report.
Cerone, the third name on the list, is a professor of international law at the New England School of Law in Boston.
Author and activist Phyllis Bennis, who has written extensively on the conflict and is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, was not one of the three finalists, even though she had been on the first shortlist of five candidates.
The final candidate is picked by UNHRC President Baudelaire Ndong Ella, the ambassador of Gabon, according to council spokesman Rolando Gomez. He said the council would be appointing 19 rapporteurs on March 28, including one for the Palestinian territories.
In total the UNHRC has 37 rapporteurs, of which 15 are for specific countries. But Israel is the only country to which a rapporteur is permanently assigned. On its website, the council states that the position is active until “the end of the Israeli occupation.”
The mandate itself limits the investigator to only examine Israeli actions against Palestinians over the pre-1967 lines, and does not seek information on Palestinian violation of human rights against either Israel or its own people.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of Geneva-based nongovernmental organization UN Watch, said that even Falk had complained the mandate was one-sided.