Human rights under assault

Israel, portrayed as a meta-human rights violator, emerges as the new anti-Christ of the int'l arena.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The UN Human Rights Council has concluded its year-long session by singling-out one Member State - Israel - for permanent indictment on the Council agenda. This discriminatory treatment is not only prejudicial to Israel; but it is a breach of the UN Charter's, foundational principle of "equality for all nations, large and small." This action, moreover, concluded a week - and year - of unprecedented discriminatory conduct. The week began with Archbishop Desmond Tutu reporting to the UN Human Rights Council on the high-level fact finding mission to investigate the Israeli "willful killing of Palestinian civilians" in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, in November 2006. He received a standing ovation, an extraordinary reaction by a body that frowns even upon applause. I suspect the appreciation was as much for the man as anything else. For the mandate that authorized the mission was a sham. It made a mockery of the Council's own founding principles and procedures. It was a mission that should never have been. Accordingly, when I addressed the Council that same morning, I made public for the first time that I had been invited by the Council president last November to join the mission, but declined to do so, and I explained why. ONE MIGHT initially have thought, as I explained to the Council, that I would welcome the opportunity to serve under a UN human rights mandate. I come from a country, Canada, which has regarded the United Nations as an organizing idiom of its foreign policy, a country that has made a substantial contribution to the development of UN law and the cause of human rights. My late colleague and mentor at McGill Law School, John Humphrey, was founding director of the UN division on human rights, and the principal draftsman of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Regrettably, though, I could not accept the mandate because its terms of reference made a mockery of Kofi Annan's vision for the new Council, and of its founding principles of universality, equality and fairness. First, as a law professor and international lawyer, I could not accept a mandate to hear only one side of a dispute. The terms of reference deliberately ignored the Palestinian rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Sderot that preceded Israel's actions, and which continue as I write. The entrance to the McGill University Faculty of Law, where I am a professor is engraved with the words audi artarem - "hear both sides." How could one participate in a mandate that violated this bedrock principle of the rule of law - that denied a member state the right to a fair hearing and fundamental due process? Second, the mandate also violated the presumption of innocence. The resolution establishing this fact finding mission began by condemning "the Israeli willful killing of Palestinian civilians." The 19 Palestinian dead were a tragedy. But how could one participate in a fact-finding mission where the facts and the verdict were determined in advance - a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland inquiry, where the conviction was secured and the sentence passed even before the inquiry began? It is not surprising, therefore, that the Council members that most consistently support the human rights mechanisms of this body - including Canada - all refused to support this mandate. Regrettably, this discriminatory and one-sided approach has become not the exception but the norm. Council sessions of the past year reflected not only the same contempt for the rule of law, but the systematic singling-out of a member state for selective and discriminatory treatment, while granting the major violators exculpatory immunity. EXAMPLES ABOUND. Witness the following three: • There have been 9 resolutions condemning one member state only - Israel - but none of any of the other 191 members of the international community, including, for example, no condemnation of the genocide in Darfur, or of the public and direct incitement to genocide and massive human rights violations in Ahmadinejad's Iran. • The continuing exclusion of one member state - Israel - from membership in any of the five regional groups that govern the Council, thereby denying a member state the fundamental right of due process, and the right to equitable standing. • The Council's discourse, as exemplified in the session just ended, as an endless drumbeat of indictment - and incitement - against Israel, contrary, again, to the Council's founding principles and procedures. Indeed, in a world where human rights have emerged as the new secular religion of our time, Israel, portrayed as a meta-human rights violator, emerges as the new anti-Christ of the international arena. And as if this were not enough, the Council has now institutionalized forever the Alice-in-Wonderland condemnatory process, and the corresponding drumbeats of indictment. First, as mentioned above, the Council has now institutionalized the condemnation of Israel as a standing item on the Council agenda - the permanent singling out of a member state for differential and discriminatory treatment. Second, it has not institutionalized the mandate of the special investigator on "Israeli violations of the principles and bases of international law" in the Palestinian territories - the only indefinite, open-ended, and one-sided investigative mandate. The tragedy in all of this is not only that it fuels the ongoing delegitimization, if not the demonization, of a member state of the United Nations - casting Israel as the collective, targeted Jew among the nations. Or that it provides succor and assistance to those, like Iranian president Ahmadinejad, who envision "a world without Israel," as well as those who target Israel alone as the object of boycotts and sanctions. Rather, the tragedy is that all of this takes place under the protective cover of the United Nations, with the presumed imprimatur of international law, and the halo banner of human rights. It is not only one state that is under assault. The bell is tolling for the UN Human Rights Council itself. It is time to sound the alarm and return the Council to its founding principles and ideals. The writer is a Canadian member of Parliament and the former minister of Justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a board member of UN Watch.