UN expert: Human Rights Council 'disappointment'

But Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin criticizes Israel over fence, targeted killings.

palestinians, IDF 298 (photo credit: )
palestinians, IDF 298
(photo credit: )
A United Nations legal expert harshly criticized his organization's recently-formed Human Rights Council on Tuesday, particularly its decision to permanently single out Israel as an item for debate. "The council has been a huge disappointment," said UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin of Finland in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post as he wrapped up an eight-day visit here. Officials in Israel have also been critical of the council for singling out the Jewish state. Scheinin said that the council, which was created last year to replace the now defunct Human Rights Commission, had "repeated many of the mistakes for which people wanted to abolish" its predecessor. He also said, "The council has created new problems by distracting attention from the protection of human rights to eternal discussions on its own procedures." Scheinin, who is a former member of another UN monitoring body, the Human Rights Committee, blamed part of the problem on the speed with which the new council replaced the old commission. "This was predictable," Scheinin said. He added that he still hoped there would be a turnaround in the council's attitude on Israel and in its ability to address human rights issues around the globe. "I am not pessimistic in the sense that I would see this as eternal. I see it as a period of transition," said Scheinin. He added that there had been some improvements over the old Human Rights Commission, such as in the council's membership criteria. "But I know that there are negative developments, and the agenda issue [which makes Israel a permanent issue of debate] that you are referring to is one of them, because it perpetrates certain patterns," he said. The council was due to be reviewed by the UN General Assembly in four years, Scheinin said. "The four other years are the real test, moving from institution building to real human rights work. It is time for the council to prove that it will be capable of addressing real human rights violation all over the world," Scheinin said. He came to Israel on behalf of the Human Rights Council, to evaluate Israel's counterterrorism activities from the perspective of law and human rights. He admitted that this mandate was asymmetrical in that his focus was on Israel and not on the Palestinian Authority, which he said, could be the subject of another visit. Overall, he told the Post, he found there was a "high priority given to military necessity when conducting counterterrorism operations. So to the [Palestinian] population it feels that it is causing a lot of unnecessary damage." What the IDF saw as actions required to protect Israelis, the Palestinians saw as disproportionate, he said. "I am concerned about the counterproductive consequences. These operations create a breeding ground for terrorists," Scheinin said. This was particularly true with regard to the security barrier, he said. He added that he understood the barrier was not a new border or an attempt to annex land. The IDF, he said, had explained to him that it was one of the most effective means to prevent suicide bombings. But in a report he handed out to the press, Scheinin said he was "gravely concerned about the impact of the barrier and accompanying measures upon the freedom of movement, right to property, right to work, right to health, right to education, the right to private and family life, the right to nondiscrimination and the human dignity of all persons." He refrained from criticizing the barrier itself, which the UN has already declared as illegal in sections where it is over the Green Line. Instead, Scheinin said he was focusing on the impact on Palestinians and whether it violated human rights law, but he declined to pass judgment at this time. It is possible, he said, that the "negative impact can fall under the notion of permissible restrictions." He spoke more harshly about Israel's policy of targeted killings, which he called unjust. On the positive side, he said he was pleased that new counterterrorism legislation was being drafted in the Knesset. Scheinin said his statements and brief report were a prelude to a larger document that he planned to present to the Human Rights Council in a few months, that would also address the issue of house demolitions. Scheinin said he had prepared similar studies on Turkey, South Africa and the United States in the past.