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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Anne Bayefsky on International Law and the Middle East Conflict



Bayefsky says she "can only provide you with a brief overview" of the UN record on Israel, but it's much appreciated.
Human rights are the most powerful political currency of our time. So it matters that at the UN Israel is the archetypal human rights violator in the world.

Almost 30% of UN Commission on Human Rights resolutions condemning a specific state over a 35-year period are on Israel alone.

Israel is the only state to have been the subject of an entire agenda item of the Commission for the past 34 years.

The General Assembly has only had ten emergency sessions in its history and six of them have focused on Israel.

In 1993 the UN Commission on Human Rights created the role of Special Rapporteur - or human rights investigator - on the "Palestinian territories". The Rapporteur's mandate is to investigate only "Israel's violations of...international law" and not to consider human rights violations by Palestinians in Israel.

The UN's Special Rapporteur on Israel is only one of many UN bodies created to focus on Israel. If one goes to the UN website and the chart of the "UN human rights organizational structure" there is only one country-specific mandate listed, the "Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories". Established in 1968, it is the only country-specific UN human rights investigative mechanism that is not comprised of independent experts, but three state representatives.

There is another "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People". Established in 1975 on the same day the General Assembly passed the Zionism is Racism resolution, it still produces annual reports and sponsors meetings, conferences and various publications, year round.

At the UN Durban World Conference Against Racism in September 2001 only one country situation was criticized as racist in the world today - Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Notwithstanding that such a characterization is a gross misrepresentation of the conflict guaranteed to inflame and incite hatred and violence, Durban is now the centerpiece of the anti-racism agenda of the UN.

In April 2002 UN action was a major contributing factor to an atmosphere of hysteria over an alleged Israeli "massacre" in Jenin, a place labeled in a Fatah-authored report as "the suicider's capital". Terje Roed-Larsen, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, described the scene at Jenin as "horrific beyond belief", "...totally destroyed...like an earthquake; we have expert people here who...say they have never seen anything like it". Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UNWRA, called it "a human catastrophe that had few parallels in recent history". Three months later, in mid-summer, the UN Secretary General released a report on Jenin noting in a paragraph 57 the fact that the Palestinian death toll was 52, more than half of whom were armed combatants. The impression of a massacre, however, is what remains in the public consciousness.

Israel is the only UN member state denied full and equal membership in one of the UN's five regional groups. Israel is denied membership in any UN body elected in Geneva. Every day from 9 to 10 a.m. of the UN Commission on Human Rights' annual six-week session, only Israel is left standing in the halls, while all other UN members and observers (including the Palestinian Authority) meet in private strategic and information-sharing sessions in each of the five UN regional groups.

Both the 2002 and 2003 Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution which specifically affirmed the legitimacy of suicide-bombing -- or in UN-language "all available means including armed struggle" -- in order to resist "foreign occupation and for self-determination."

What is the comparable UN regard for human rights protection of people in other states?

There has never been a UN Commission on Human Rights resolution on countries like China, Syria, Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe.

Complaints to the UN of gross and reliably attested human rights violations - which are made by individuals and groups - for example, against Bahrain, Malawi, Mali, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, have all been quietly dropped by an in camera procedure at the Commission on Human Rights.

In 2002 the Commission had before it a report expressing concern with gross human rights violations in Iran, such as the absence of due process of law and respect for religious minorities, systematic discrimination against women and the killing of intellectuals and political activists. Iran also had refused to cooperate with the designated UN special representative and denied him entry into the country for the previous six years. The Commission responded not by condemning Iran, but by removing the representative.

At the 2003 Commission, members had before them the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture which detailed the Sudanese penal code and its punishment for armed robbery as "cross amputation" -- the amputation of right hand and left foot, various cases of women being stoned to death for adultery after trials denying them legal representation and conducted in a language they didn't understand, and cases of "death by hanging with crucifixion." Pakistan, on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, objected to the draft resolution's condemnation "of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment such as cross amputation" as "an offense to all Muslim countries." The resolution was defeated and the position of the Rapporteur on human rights in Sudan terminated.

In 2003 the Commission adopted 20 resolutions directed at country situations, five of which were directed at Israel.

In the 2003 General Assembly there were 20 GA resolutions directed at Israel. Criticism of human-rights situations in the rest of the world - the other 190 UN members - drew only four country-specific resolutions.
There's so much more, like this bit:
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan - and a UN special rapporteur and the UN Commission on Human Rights - have called Israel's killing of Yassin an "extrajudicial killing" "in violation of international law." After Israel killed two senior Hamas military-wing terrorists who were ticking bombs, engaged in planning suicide attacks in the short term this past September, Terje Roed-Larsen (the UN's Middle East envoy) "expressed serious alarm over the latest violence in the Middle East... after an Israeli operation yesterday in Hebron, in which a 12-year-old boy was killed... Israel has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and refrain from the use of disproportionate force."

International law actually says combatants in a war are not entitled to judicial process before being targeted, particularly in circumstances as here where Israel cannot arrest and the Palestinian Authority refuses to do so. The Geneva Conventions say specifically that the presence of "civilians shall not be used to render... areas immune from military operations... in attempts to shield military objectives from attack" and incidental loss of civilian life as result of an attack on a military target is only prohibited if "excessive".

Proportionality does not mean zero civilian casualties. By contrast, the UN has never once condemned the violation of international law by the Palestinian Authority - namely, putting civilians, deliberately and directly, in harm's way, and using the civilian population as human shields.
It's a keeper. Read it all.