As chairman of a three-person U.N. human rights panel appointed to investigate violations during last summer’s Gaza war, Canadian law professor William Schabas was deemed by many to be biased against Israel. Last week, the Israeli government, which had not cooperated with the panel, prompted Schabas’ resignation by publicizing a legal opinion he wrote on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012.
This, Israel said, was “a blatant conflict of interest.” Schabas, who was paid $1,300 for his legal work, said he was resigning to avoid becoming “an obstacle and distraction” to the panel’s work.
Schabas’ resignation will likely not derail the panel’s report or delay its scheduled March 23 release. According to reports, most of the work is done, and there already is a new chair to oversee its completion. The day after Schabas’ resignation, the president of the U.N. Human Rights Council appointed panel member Mary McGowan Davis, a former justice of the New York State Supreme Court, as Schabas’s replacement.
Davis is viewed as a moderate, based upon her role on a U.N. committee appointed to monitor Palestinian and Israeli compliance with the Goldstone Report that probed human rights violations in the 2009 Gaza war. While Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone panel, much as it boycotted the Schabas commission, it did cooperate with Davis. Judge Richard Goldstone, who lent his name to the committee report, later credited the information that Israel gave Davis for his repudiation of parts of his own report.
When Schabas was appointed chairman last August, we acknowledged criticism of him and of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which has a dismal record in its treatment of Israel. But we nevertheless urged Israel to cooperate with the Schabas commission, in the hope of avoiding another Goldstone debacle. That hasn’t happened, and the Israel Foreign Ministry is said to believe that the new report will be highly critical.
We hope that Davis, as chair, will strive for fairness and balance in her commission report. But if Israel hasn’t told its side of the story, or otherwise cooperated with the investigation, is it really fair to blame the expected report for being one-sided? Perhaps now with Davis at the lead, Israel will feel it has a sympathetic ear, if not a sympathetic audience, and be more forthcoming with the other side of the Gaza war story.