Lawyers, watchdog allege Goldstone bias

Inquiry report by commission investigating possible war crimes during Gaza op could be published Mon.

Goldstone means business 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Goldstone means business 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
British and Canadian lawyers, together with a UN watchdog group, are complaining this week of alleged bias in the Goldstone Commission investigating possible war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead in December and January. The commission, established by the UN Human Rights Council and headed by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, is expected to file its report as early as Monday, though no specific date has been formally announced. Some 50 British and Canadian lawyers have signed a public letter protesting the presence of London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin on the commission. The letter said her participation "necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report." Chinkin signed a public letter in January that called Israel's actions "war crimes." This disqualified her from participating in an international panel investigating whether Israel had, in fact, committed war crimes, the lawyers contended. Goldstone has rejected calls for Chinkin to step down. "The letter in question also condemned the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings, which it said were also war crimes," he noted in an interview with The Jerusalem Post in July. He also praised Chinkin's "intellect, knowledge and professional approach to her work" and said he had "no doubt at all that she is able to keep an open mind on all of the issues we are considering and that has indeed been demonstrated during our many deliberations over the past weeks." However, the watchdog UN Watch noted that Goldstone admitted in an August interview with South Africa's Business Day that the signature "would have been grounds for disqualification" if the commission had constituted a formal judicial inquiry. "Goldstone's implied argument is that his international fact-finding mission is somehow exempt from the impartiality rule," UN Watch said in a statement published Sunday. Beyond the question of Chinkin's membership in the four-person panel, the Israeli government has said it views the commission as a fig leaf for an anti-Israel campaign in the Human Rights Council. The commission's conclusions were decided ahead of time and were intended to offer legal grounds for an international effort to sue Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court, officials have repeatedly complained in recent weeks. Israeli officials point to statements by Palestinian officials to that effect, including a comment by senior Hamas official Ahmed Yousef, who said the commission's report would be "like ammunition in the hands of the people who are willing to sue Israeli war criminals." They also point to a recent call by Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, that Israeli officials be investigated in the International Criminal Court if the Goldstone Commission finds evidence of war crimes. "Apart from prosecution, I believe that these investigative commissions are very important because they do deliver a sense of justice to victims," Pillay said, in an August 27 interview with Reuters. Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch, whose multiple claims of Israeli war crimes brought Israel to denounce the group as politically motivated, called for international prosecution of Israeli soldiers and officials if Israel failed "to investigate serious violations" on its own. A September 11 op-ed by the organization's deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division Joe Stork said a "UN mechanism" should be established to determine whether Israel met the criterion of adequately investigating its actions. The UN mechanism, he explained, would "monitor and report on how Israeli and Hamas authorities discharge their obligation to investigate serious violations committed by their forces." UN Watch retorted, however, that "no one has ever disputed that the Arab-controlled Human Rights Council deliberately selected individuals who had made up their mind well in advance - not only that Israel was guilty, but that a democratic state with an imperfect but respected legal system should be considered the same as, or worse than, a terrorist group. "Such moral equivalence regrettably underlies this week's blitz campaign by Human Rights Watch to demand that Western states support the Arab campaign to turn the Goldstone report into an ICC indictment of Israel." According to UN Watch, "the comparison is perverse in scale and in principle: Killing civilians during battle is for Israel, the US, and other NATO allies an unintended tragedy of war that they seek to avoid; for Hamas, Hizbullah or al-Qaida, it is a triumph that embodies their very raison d'etre and modus operandi. Blurring that distinction is moral blindness, mischief or malice." Israeli officials have accused the Goldstone Mission of being "congenitally flawed" because its original founding resolution, passed in the Human Rights Council on January 12, 2009, called for the mission to investigate only Israel, and explicitly referred to Israel's actions as "violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel." This founding resolution, which Goldstone insists has been changed by the HRC but which was not altered in a follow-up resolution, "is a morally weak and legally defective basis for an investigation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy told the Post in July. "The mandate is to find the evidence for a verdict that has already been handed down by an automatic [anti-Israel] majority in the HRC. It is not only immoral, but shows contempt for the international community and the truth. "We will not cooperate with the mission because its duty is not to find the truth, but to find semi-judicial ways to attack Israel. We know this schpiel and are not willing to play a game that's stacked against us," said Levy. A response from the commission could not be obtained by press time.