Outgoing HRC head: Review Palestinian mandate

The current mandate of the special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories allows him to investigate human rights abuses committed by Israel only.

doru costea 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
doru costea 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The outgoing president of the United Nations Human Rights Council believes that the mandate of the special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, established in 1993 exclusively to investigate human rights abuses committed by Israel, should be put under review. All UN mandates are supposed to go through an RRI process - review, rationalization and improvement - to ensure they match their responsibilities. Most are reviewed every three years. Romanian Ambassador Doru Costea, who served as president of the Human Rights Council for the past year, told The Jerusalem Post by telephone from Geneva that "My own judgment is that this mandate... should be included in the process of review, rationalization and improvement, as any other mandate." Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yitzhak Levanon, appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to review the mandate of the special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories. His speech on June 19th on the floor of the 8th session of the Human Rights Council came a week after the new special rapporteur, Richard Falk, said his role is biased and should be expanded to include violations carried out by Palestinians as well. Ambassador Costea's term as president of the Human Rights Council, the UN body responsible for protection of human rights, ended with the June session of the council. The new president, who will head the council when it reconvenes in September, is Nigerian Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi. In terms of what potential steps Uhomoibhi could take regarding this mandate, Costea said he could call for those who disagree on reviewing the mandate to directly discuss the matter. Ambassador Levanon agreed that working with the new President may yield results. He has sent "a strong letter" to Uhomoibhi, asking him to bring the issue to discussion during the September session of the council. "After 15 years it is time to sit down and assess what we have done," Levanon told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from Geneva. "We're not talking about waiving or eliminating the mandate, we just demand that one mandate is not singled out from any other mandate." According to Levanon, out of 35 UN mandates established to report on human rights abuses around the world, only the special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories has yet to be reviewed as stipulated by the Human Rights Council's institution-building procedures. At the council's latest session in Geneva two weeks ago, Levanon asked why the rapporteur's mandate had not been reviewed since its establishment in 1993. The mandate on human rights in the Palestinian territories, which is required to ignore all violations of human rights by Palestinian leaders and terrorists, is an exception. John Dugard, who previously held the position of special rapporteur now occupied by Falk, reflected on this by saying that any time he submitted reports on Palestinian violations of human rights, "they were not well received." "I was often told I was exceeding my mandate," he added. The mandate was scheduled to be reviewed in March, but was overlooked in that session of the council. When Levanon brought this mistake to the council's attention, the representative from Pakistan said the review should never have been scheduled in the first place. Sebastian Gogillioz of the NGO Human Rights Watch said, "Pakistan is really playing the politicization strategy. That is rhetoric that has been laid out since day one of the council." If the powerful stakeholders in the council such as Pakistan or Egypt oppose reviewing such a mandate, Gogillioz said, "It will never happen." Gogillioz had other explanations for the inability of the council to review the mandate, however. He pointed to other mandates, such as the one to investigate human rights abuses in Burma, established in 1995, which was never reviewed until the March session of the council. Another explanation was the difficulty in transition from the defunct Human Rights Commission to the council, which caused many operations, such as the review of mandates, to be postponed. For better or for worse, review of the mandate on Israel was not the only one postponed. According to Gogillioz, that mandates on Cambodia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were also postponed. Many country delegates and NGOs were caught by surprise on June 16 when the new special rapporteur Richard Falk, an American Jew who has espoused many anti-Israel positions, called for a review of the mandate to include human rights violations committed by both Israelis and Palestinians. Ambassador Costea admitted Falk's comments in the council were not well received. John Dugard in a telephone interview stated that the chances of the mandate being reviewed are "very slight." "The reason is that the Human Rights Council takes the view that this is a very special mandate and it will continue until the end of the occupation. While all others are reviewed to take account for political changes that affect human rights in that country, so as long as occupation continues, it is a matter of importance for the Human Rights Council." Dugard did say that he supported Falk's call to expand the mandate because "it can be argued to be related to the occupation." He continued, "I cannot see why a special rapporteur should not comment on rocket fire into Sderot or suicide bombings, because they are part of the occupation. The special rapporteur should be encouraged to report on such matters." Palestinian violations committed against Palestinians, according to Dugard, are a separate issue. "It is less likely that Palestinian violations of human rights against Palestinians would fall within that mandate. Violence by Hamas against Fatah, that is difficult to justify that it is part of the occupation." The Palestinian representative to the UN in Geneva declined to comment on the issue. Despite indirectly supporting Falk's call to expand the mandate, Ambassador Levanon continues to have concerns about the current special rapporteur's execution of his mandate. "I don't trust him," Levanon said of Falk. "He would not expand it. He would use this legitimacy to come to Israel and show the difference between the 'oppressors and the oppressed.' He would have the legitimacy of the expansion of the mandate. His reports would be worse than Dugard because of this legitimacy." Ambassador Costea, on the other hand, would like to give an expanded mandate a chance. "We should give it a chance to see how it works. I cannot prejudge what the results would be. We would have to see."