The appointment of a UN special rapporteur (SR) for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has again run into troubled waters as an NGO has questioned the credibility of the top candidates for the job.
UN Watch, a pro-Israel non-governmental organisation, published a report earlier this month that discredits the top two candidates — Penelope Green (UK) and Michael Lynk (Canada) — chosen from a list of 10 candidates by the UN Human Rights Council’s (HRC) consultative group (CG) in charge of appointing special rapporteurs.
In its report, UN Watch said that Penny Green accuses Israel of “criminal state practices”, “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid”. Green “also promotes the work of extreme anti-Western ideologues like Noam Chomsky and Grietje Baars, and heads an institute that opposes Western counter-terrorism and anti-extremism,” the report added.
“Like Penny Green, Lynk also promotes an extreme anti-Western political agenda,” the report further states.
HRC President Choi Kyonglim is currently consulting “stakeholders” on the issue, including the possibility of postponing the appointment of a special rapporteur for the oPt.
This possibility has spurred much debate among HRC member states.
The special rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures — largest body of independent experts who constitute independent fact-finding and monitoring missions that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world — of the HRC.
These mandate holders are recommended by a consultative group. This year, the CG comprises ambassadors to the UN in Geneva from Thailand, France, Egypt, Brazil and Albania.
The present UN special rapporteur for ‘the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967’, Makarim Wibisono, resigned in less than two years citing non-cooperation from the Israelis.
In his last report to the HRC that he presented on 21 March, Wibisono said that he sought access to the oPt four times in writing and also during his meetings with the Israeli government. However, his requests went unheeded.
The Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the UN in Geneva, with the support of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) group of countries, has shot off a letter to the HRC president to not delay the appointment of the UN rights expert on Palestine. It has also requested the support of other UN groups of countries like the Asia-Pacific group, Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) group and the Africa group. India is a part of both the Asia-Pacific group as well as the NAM group.
The letter accessed by Firstpost, states that UN Watch “whose pro-Israel political agenda is well known” has problems with all candidates shortlisted for the job, except American human rights lawyer Christina Cerna.
It is “shocking”, the letter states, that the Presidency would consider UN Watch as a credible source of information.
The names of new UN mandate holders, to replace those whose terms have expired, are scheduled to be announced on 24 March.
There is no need for a postponement of the appointment, the letter opines, since there are still four days during which both Green and Lynk can be asked about the allegations. Any postponement of the appointment would call into question the “objectivity and impartiality” of the Presidency, it further adds.
Both the candidates have rejected the allegations directed against them by UN Watch.
The OIC in a statement to the HRC on 21 March said that the postponement of appointment is “unacceptable” to them.
The president of the HRC has a couple of options available for resolving the issue: he can follow the CG’s recommendations disregarding the allegations of UN Watch, he can request Wibisono to continue to avoid a “protection gap” till a new SR is appointed or he can choose a candidate from the longer list of shortlisted candidates.
The longer list of candidates contains the following names: Saer Ammar (Syria), Phyllis Bennis (US), Christina Cerna (US), Vinodh Jaichand (South Africa), Anohar John (India), Hussein Kalout (Brazil), Magali Lafourcade (France) and Michael Mansfield, apart from Lynk and Green.
The appointment of human rights experts on Palestine, whether as a special envoy or as part of UN fact-finding missions, has consistently been a rather contentious matter at the HRC. The Council has a permanent agenda—item number 7—that examines the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.
Israel has called the Council “biased” and has refused to participate in debates under agenda item 7.
The appointment of the UN special envoy to Palestine was similarly embroiled in controversy in 2014 when Wibisono was subsequently selected.
The CG of the time had recommended Christina Cerna—the preferred candidate for UN Watch whose name appears in the shortlisted candidates this year as well—as the top candidate for the post of UN special envoy to the oPt. However, her candidature was frowned upon by the OIC because of which the name of British lawyer Christine Mary Chinkin—the second in list of the recommended candidates—cropped up. But that was objected to by other member-states resulting in the selection of Wibisono who was in the long list of candidates shortlisted by the CG.
“Proceeding on that basis, the CG chose human rights lawyer Christina Cerna, and rejected biased candidates such as William Schabas and Christine Chinkin,” UN Watch states in the report.
Wibisono’s predecessor, Richard Falk—professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University—has also faced his share of controversy. He was deported from the Ben Gurion airport by the government of Israel. After his appointment as UN mandate holder for examining human rights violations in the oPt, Israel in 2007 had said that it would not allow his entry because Falk prior to his appointment had stated that the Jewish nation’s blockade of Gaza was a “Holocaust in the making”.
UN Watch, in its report, calls Falk a “Hamas supporter”.
Similarly, William Schabas, Canadian human rights lawyer, had resigned in March last year as chair of the UN commission of inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war. Israel had called this a “diplomatic victory”.
UN Watch, after Scahbas’ resignation, stated in their website: “Schabas’ decision to resign follows a massive and sustained campaign by UN Watch over five months”.
The organisation considers not only the mandate holders as biased, barring a few of their choice, but also the very mandate of the special envoys as “discriminatory” in nature. The mandate presumes Israel’s violations, they state.
The UN Watch report “recommends” that the EU and the US should take the lead in rectifying the “discriminatory” nature of the mandate and the bias of the mandate holders themselves.
Wibisono in his last statement to the Council as the UN special envoy for Palestinian territories urged the international community “to redouble its efforts to insist that Israel cooperates with the mandate, including by providing unfettered access to Occupied Palestinian Territory”.
He also called out to the Israeli authorities "to immediately halt settlement expansion and to refrain from carrying out demolitions of Palestinian property, forced evictions, and other acts causing the forced displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem".
The writer is a journalist at the United Nations