‘Are you a rapporteur or an activist?’

Puzzled reporter asked UN investigator Richard Falk a straight question: “Are you a rapporteur or an activist?”

UN Richard Falk 311  (photo credit: Reuters)
UN Richard Falk 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
After UN investigator Richard Falk submitted Thursday a report that targeted companies that did business in West Bank settlements, puzzled Fox News reporter Jonathan Wachtel asked him a straight question:
“Are you a rapporteur or an activist?”
“There are many conflicts around the world where companies play a crucial role. This is the first time I have heard about a rapporteur pushing like an NGO activist. It seems like a new thing,” he said.
Wachtel was among a number of reporters who, at a Thursday press conference in the UN building in New York, were critical of Falk’s report, which called on the international community to boycott such businesses.
In the report, Falk warned that such companies and their employees could face criminal or civil liability for their actions in the West Bank. He further suggested that the UN General Assembly ask the International Court of Justice at the Hague to issue an advisory opinion on the matter.
Among the companies listed in his report was Caterpillar Inc. (US), whose vehicles are used in the construction of the security barrier.
In response to Wachtel’s questions, Falk said that his report was “an innovation.”
But, he added, he was not sure if his call was the first of its kind for this sort of measure.
The international community has failed for decades to stop Israeli building in the West Bank, Falk said.
His initiative to target businesses, he said, was “an effort to reach out beyond the traditional way that the UN condemns things.” He added, “We should try to use what influence we have, to change behavior and this is one way of changing behavior.
“The civil society initiatives associated with the boycott divestment and sanctions movements has had significant concrete successes,” Falk said.
Reporter Benny Avni of the New York Post took Falk to task for solely focusing on Israeli actions in the West Bank, while he ignored Palestinian violations of human rights.
“You are charged with the responsibility to judge Israel’s behavior in the occupied territories, but your title is special rapporteur of the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories,” Avni said.
“As such have you noticed during your travels to the region any violation of human rights by the Palestinian Authority that is controlling most of the cities in the West Bank, and even more so by Hamas that controls all of Gaza? “Do you think that the last three days of [rocket] attacks from Gaza into Israel constitute any human rights violations?” Avni asked.
Falk responded that this mandate limited him to Israeli violations in the occupied territories.
“But not the title, it does not mention Israel,” said Avni.
Falk said in response, “the fuller formulation of the mandate does restrict it to Israelis’ violations. There has been an attempt, including by me, to broaden the mandate to include Palestinians. It was rejected at the human rights council.”
Falk noted Israel has made his task more difficult, because since 2008 it has barred him from entering the Palestinian territories.
“So Caterpillar is in your mandate, but Hamas in Gaza is not,” Avni summarized.
Falk said he has consistently condemned the indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza.
In response to a query by Wachtel, Falk elaborated by calling the rocket attacks, “a violation of international humanitarian law. If they are concerted attacks in a context where there is no reasonable provocation and they are not targeted, then it could constitute a crime against humanity, depending on the magnitude of the violation,” he said.
But, he explained to both Wachtel and Avni, Israel bore some responsibility for the attacks.
“Often these incidents of violence do not acknowledge the degree to which Israel has been the provocative actor in producing the violent interaction,” Falk said.
Falk has long been a controversial figure. In 2011 he wrote on his blog that there had been an “apparent cover-up” by US authorities over the September 11 attacks, and also posted an anti-Semitic cartoon, which was later removed.
He was appointed in 2008 by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council as the special investigator on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.
His latest report, however, was submitted to the 24th meeting of a UN General Assembly human rights group – formally called the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee.
Reuters contributed to this report.