Schabas shalom

William Schabas resigned as head of the UNHRC inquiry into Israeli war crimes.

William Schabas  (photo credit: screenshot)
William Schabas
(photo credit: screenshot)
William Schabas, head of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s panel of inquiry into last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip has done us all a favor and resigned.
Revelations regarding Schabas’s connections with the PLO (he provided the organization with legal advice and advocacy) were the immediate reason for the man’s decision to relieve himself of his post. But from the outset – the panel was first created on July 23 when the war was still raging – it was feared that those involved, particularly Schabas, would not be governed by objectivity and evenhandedness.
The UNHRC’s 47-nation body, which appointed the panel, has proven on numerous occasions that its perception of justice is distorted. Indeed, this distortion is built in.
Ostensibly, UN votes are democratic. But this means that countries with horrific human rights records, led by regimes that reject basic democratic principles, get the same vote as liberal democracies. Supporters of the resolution to create a panel of inquiry into Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, for instance, included such human rights luminaries as China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
Not only do these countries flagrantly trample the rights of their own citizens, but in a cynical act of reciprocity these autocratic regimes also cover for one another’s crimes by blocking attempts to launch inquiries against fellow dictators.
As a result, while Israel is obsessively castigated – according to the UNHRC’s agenda item 7, Israel’s alleged human rights violations must be discussed every time the UNHRC convenes – regimes which perpetrate real human rights abuses are all but ignored.
The UNHRC ignores the principle of “complementarity,” which states that if a state has its own functioning legal system in place – like Israel’s, one of the most respected in the world – organizations like the UNHRC and the International Criminal Court have no business getting involved.
Even in cases when the UNHRC finally does open an inquiry against a country other than Israel delays abound.
It took the UNHRC five years to finally take serious action against Sri Lanka. In contrast, the inquiry into purported Israeli “war crimes” was launched even before the fighting in Gaza stopped. And from the outset the express assumption was that Israel, not Hamas, was guilty of war crimes.
Dore Gold, former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted that while the UNHRC has the aura of being a legal body, it does not even bother to hide its political bias.
Gold is the only Israeli who has publicly debated Richard Goldstone, the Jewish South African legal expert who headed a previous UNHRC inquiry panel against Israel, a panel that has since been discredited by Goldstone himself.
During the debate, says, Gold, which took place at Brandeis University, Goldstone effectively admitted that members of his panel, such as Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics, were biased against Israel.
Similarly, it was only natural that the UNHRC would tap Schabas, a man who has gone on record saying Netanyahu was “my favorite” to put “in the dock of the International Criminal Court.”
Schabas’s resignation seals the fate of the misguided UNHRC’s panel of inquiry and its report, slated to be produced at the end of March. By stepping down, Schabas is effectively admitting his own bias, which renders the results of his inquiry inadmissible to any court of justice.
The Schabas controversy would be farcical if it were not tragic. The world is in desperate need of a body with international backing and clout to investigate human rights abuses and bring criminals to justice. The UNHRC was supposed to be precisely this body, but it has failed miserably.
As a result, a double injustice has been performed. Not only has Israel, a country that is not perfect but that strives to protect human rights, been singled out for wildly disproportionate censure, but other countries – Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia to name just a few – are allowed to carry on violating basic rights indiscriminately.
It is a small consolation to bid Schabas a hearty “shalom” and witness the trashing of his biased report on purported Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses. Yet while Schabas wasted his time with his “inquiry,” human rights were being abused around the world. The cries for help from Nigeria, Ukraine, and China, however, were met by the UNHRC in Geneva with silence.