UN council eyes new Palestinian rights chief

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Meeting in Geneva for its annual spring session, the United Nations Human Rights Council will be deciding on a replacement for Richard Falk, the body’s special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, a process that is being closely monitored by U.N. watchdog groups, the United States and Israel.

The applicant list has recently been reduced by the vetting committee to three from 10, with the candidates perceived as being the most biased against Israel now out of the running, according to UN Watch. The council president, currently Baudelaire Ndong Ella of the Gabonese Republic, will select one of the candidates to be put up for a vote in front of the entire council later this month.


Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, told Washington Jewish Week that usually, the president follows the vetting committee’s recommendation and picks the leading candidate, although he has no obligation to do so. The president may even choose a candidate already eliminated in the vetting process.

Appointed by the council to a six-year, nonrenewable term on March 26, 2008, Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University who endorsed boycotts against the Jewish state, has been a perennial thorn in the side of Israel supporters, former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Before becoming the special rapporteur, Falk was a member of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian territories.

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The three remaining candidates for the job are Christina Cerna, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law School; John Cerone, professor at Boston’s New England Law School; and Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Of the three, both UN Watch and the Israel-based NGO Monitor regard Chinkin’s record as the most biased against Israel.


“Chinkin was in our ‘rogues’ gallery,’ ” Neuer said, referring to a list his organization compiled to expose anti-Israel sentiments among the original group of candidates. “She co-wrote the Goldstone Report, so she has a record of being enormously biased, someone who’s so biased that she doesn’t even know when she has disqualified herself for a fact finding mission.”

Neuer was referring to Chinkin’s participation in the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in 2009, also known as the Goldstone Report for its chairman, South African jurist Richard Goldstone. She also signed a January 2009 letter in the British Sunday Times newspaper that condemned Israel for war crimes and declared it to be the aggressor in its conflict with the Palestinians.

“It was ridiculous that she continued to serve on the Goldstone commission [without recusing herself],” Neuer argued in referencing the letter.

“Goldstone had the courage and the moral backbone to renounce his own report and Chinkin was one of the main people who denounced Goldstone for that process,” added Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor and a political science professor at Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University. “Goldstone acknowledged that they didn’t have the information, the evidence they presented was not convincing regarding Israel, and Chinkin denounced him for that.”

The top two candidates currently do not rank on UN Watch’s “rogues list” or have dossiers at NGO Monitor. But David Michaels, B’nai B’rith International’s director of intercommunal affairs, argued that on a certain level, it didn’t matter who occupies Falk’s position.

“The post itself, by its nature, is explicitly discriminatory against Israel. It’s meant to focus only on alleged violations of Palestinian rights with no consideration at all of violation of Israeli rights or of Palestinian misdeeds,” Michaels explained. “Whereas all other 192 member states of the U.N., including Iran, North Korea, Syria, China [and] Russia are all addressed under one item … Israel has its own permanent agenda item.”

Michaels said that there are NGOs and Human Rights Council members worried about the credibility that is lost within the organization when it appears as systemically against Israel.

“It’s an offense against the only democracy in the Middle East, the only Jewish state, but also it just shows in a very stark way that the [U.N.] bodies neglect the most severe and heinous areas of human rights violations in the world,” he said.

In his position, Falk has made public statements against Israel and the United States, positions that Steinberg feels border on anti-Semitism.

“I’ve been in meetings with him and he uses the ‘I’m Jewish, therefore I can’t be accused of being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic’ defense,” said Steinberg. “He uses that defense a lot and my challenge to him was, ‘In what other way are you Jewish other than in this hostility towards Israel and your Jewish connections?’ ”

Without taking a position on who should succeed Falk, the U.S. State Department seemed to welcome the end of the special rapporteur’s tenure.

“As we have stated before, we oppose his deeply flawed and one-sided mandate, as well as Agenda Item 7 under which it was created, the only HRC agenda item to focus on one specific country,” a State Department official told WJW. “Falk has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments, including his most recent outrageous comments in an interview with Russia Today. His reports and rhetoric have done nothing to advance a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The UNHRC regular session in Geneva lasts March 3 to March 28, with most of the Israel-related issues expected to be handled March 21. Despite advocacy from organizations like B’nai B’rith, UN Watch and NGO Monitor among others, few expect the UNHRC and its anti-Israel majority to take the Palestinian issue off its permanent agenda any time soon.

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JNS.org contributed to this story.

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