Is the condemnation by the United Nations secretary-general genuine or politically biased?

The practice of the secretary general in condemning acts of terrorism and expressing condolence and calling for investigations would appear to have a standard pattern and format, and merits some consideration.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (photo credit: REUTERS)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The recent tragic act of hatred that caused the murder of a Palestinian child, Ali Dawabsha, in the West Bank and the serious wounding of the child’s family, cannot, and should not, in any way be minimized. It is deserving of utter condemnation and repudiation by all elements of society, and has indeed been so condemned and rejected.
The strong condemnation by the UN secretary-general dated July 31, 2015, issued in a statement, attributable to his spokesman, and his expression of condolences to the family and his call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, were clearly pertinent and justified.
The secretary general’s statement reads as follows: “The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s murder of a Palestinian child in the West Bank and calls for the perpetrators of this terrorist act to be promptly brought to justice. He expresses his deepest condolences to the family of Ali Dawabsha, who were themselves severely injured in the arson attack. Continued failures to effectively address impunity for repeated acts of settler violence have led to another horrific incident involving the death of an innocent life. This must end.
“The absence of a political process and Israel’s illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practice of demolishing Palestinian houses, have given rise to violent extremism on both sides. This presents a further threat to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood as well as to the security of the people of Israel. The Secretary-General urges both sides to take bold steps to return to the path of peace.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all parties to ensure that tensions do not escalate further, leading to more loss of life.”
However, the bona fide and genuinely heartfelt nature of the secretary general’s condemnation and condolences would appear to be somewhat tempered by the unfortunate and unnecessary political message contained in the statement, making unproven assumptions and political accusations – couched in terminology that can only serve to undermine the genuine and bona fide nature of the message.
To arbitrarily attribute and link this heinous act of violent extremism and terrorism to the “absence of a political process and Israel’s illegal settlement policy, as well as the harsh and unnecessary practice of demolishing Palestinian houses” is nothing more than a regrettable and unnecessary non-sequitur, and politicization of what should be a straightforward message of sorrow and condolence.
The secretary general may well have the absolute prerogative, whenever he deems necessary, to express regret at the absence of a political process, and to criticize Israel’s settlement policies and other actions, and even to blame Israel for threatening the “legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for statehood.” This is his political viewpoint, and that of the organization he heads, whether it be correct or not. This prerogative is exercised frequently whenever the secretary general finds the need to refer to the Israel-Palestinian issue.
However, as long as Israeli police have not yet completed the investigation, he cannot and should not, within hours of the event itself, use the tragic event of a child’s murder to arbitrarily determine and pre-judge who committed the act and to render a political determination declaring that it was caused by the lack of a political process or by Israel’s settlement policy.
It is perhaps illustrative to compare the secretary general’s recent strong reaction to the tragic murder of the Palestinian baby on July 31, 2015, with his hesitant reaction to the March 2011 murder of an Israeli family of five, including three children aged between three months and 11 years in the village of Itamar.
In his two-and-a-half-line statement, issued by his spokesperson, the secretary general “condemns last night’s shocking murder of an Israeli family... .” He evidently felt that this no-less cruel and dastardly act did not warrant any “strong condemnation” or any expression of condolence.
This lack of any expression of condolence repeated itself only a few days later on March 23, 2011, when he strongly condemned a bomb attack at a Jerusalem bus stop which “reportedly” killed one woman and injured over 30 civilians. The practice of the secretary general in condemning acts of terrorism and expressing condolence and calling for investigations would appear to have a standard pattern and format, and merits some consideration.
Three days prior to the July 31, 2015, murder of Ali Dawabsha, the secretary general condemned a July 28 terrorist bomb attack in the Bahrain village of Sitra that killed two policemen and wounded several civilians. He expressed deep condolences and called for a full and transparent investigation, but neither attached blame nor attributed the act to any particular political or other circumstance.
The secretary general’s spokesman, in his briefing of July 27, despite being asked to do so markedly refrained from expressing any kind of condemnation, condolence or call for investigation of a missile attack on the town of Marib, Yemen, on the same day that indiscriminately targeted civilian facilities and in which hundreds of people were evidently killed and wounded, and a power station destroyed. A terrorist suicide bombing of a hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 26, killing 15 civilians, including of a Chinese diplomat, was condemned “in the strongest terms” by the members of the Security Council, in a statement issued on the same day, with an expression of sympathy and condolences.
In this case, the security council did not consider it necessary to attribute blame, or to add political comment or criticism, apart from a reaffirmation that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to peace and security and that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable regardless of motivation and by whomsoever committed.”
When the secretary general issued a statement on July 22, condemning “in the strongest terms” the terrorist attack of July 20 in Suruc, Turkey, where at least 31 persons were killed and over 100 wounded, he did not find it necessary to attribute blame or to accuse any particular element in society for carrying out that heinous attack, despite the comparatively large number of victims.
Similarly with the secretary general’s mere condemnation (not “strongly condemns” or “condemned in the strongest terms”) of a terrorist attack dated July 17 by the Boko Haram terrorist organization that killed over 60 people in the towns of Gombe and Damatru in northeast Nigeria, while the victims were conducting their festival prayers. He found no need, in that case, to attribute blame or to determine the cause of such a heinous and cruel act of terrorism. His condemnation “in the strongest terms” of terrorist attacks committed on June 26 in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, as well as his condemnations of the June 29 terrorist attack in Cairo that killed Egyptian prosecutor general, and the June 25 killing of former Lesotho Defense Force commander made no determinations as to cause, circumstances or identity of the perpetrators.
His strong condemnation of a June 22 terrorist assault on the Kabul parliament, following the killing of 16 civilians two days earlier, as well as the June 19 racially motivated killing of congregants of a church in Charleston, US, constitute meaningful messages of sympathy and condolence, without political overtones or innuendo.
This apparently standard pattern of UN secretary general condemnations – whether strong or otherwise – together with expressions of condolence and calls for investigation, has been consistently used as a matter of course, following terrorist atrocities throughout the world. However none of these condemnations have presumed to attach blame.
These include: • The June 16 bombing by Boko Haram in N’Djamena, Chad, where more than 25 people were killed.
• The May 22 indiscriminate and horrific attacks by Boko Haram against civilian populations in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
• The May 22 terrorist attack on a Shi’ite mosque in the town of al-Qudaih in Saudi Arabia during Friday worship.
• The May 13 terrorist attack in a public bus in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 45 members of the Ismaili community.
• The May 11 killing of civilians in the city of Kumanovo in Macedonia.
• The May 5 killing of two Tanzanian UN peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
• The terrorist attacks by Boko Haram on April 3 and April 5 in Kwaja, Nigeria and Tchoukou, Chad.
However, in light of the above, one may wonder why the secretary general and United Nations Security Council did not consider it necessary to condemn – either strongly nor otherwise – the Turkish air-strikes on the Kurdish village of Zargali in the Qandil mountains in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, on August 1, in which nine innocent civilians were murdered.
The fact that 200 civilians were brutally massacred by “Islamic State” terrorists in a Syrian border town between June 24 and June 26 did not merit any condemnation or condolence message from the secretary general and Security Council. Nor did the deaths of at least 30 people in a suicide bombing in the same border region of Turkey, despite the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the bomb attack.
The brutal murder of 21 foreign tourists in the national museum of Tunis in March, as well as the attack and killing of 38 tourists in the resort of Sousse, would appear to have been neglected by the secretary general, despite the brutal and tragic nature of these killings and the large number of fatalities. After analyzing the secretary general’s reactions, or lack thereof, to acts of terrorism, one realizes that, as in most issues regarding Israel, the classical UN double standard would appear to be universally applied, whatever the circumstances – even for the condemnation of acts of violence and expressions of compassion and condolence.
One may indeed ask if this is a deliberate mode of behavior on the part of the secretary general and his staff, or perhaps merely inadvertent and by chance.
In any event, the secretary general and his staff are advised to review their policy regarding expressions of condemnation, condolence and calls for investigation and punishment, with a view to ensuring strict application of the UN Charter principles of fairness, good faith, equality and non-distinction.
The author served as the legal adviser of Israel’s ministry for foreign affairs and as Israel’s ambassador to Canada. He was involved in all the peace process negotiations. He is presently director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.