UN’s Schabas: an open mind?
WHILE OUR attention has been focused on renewed conflict in the Middle East, a melodrama of truly farcical proportions has been played out at the Palace of Nations, Geneva. That theatre (for what else can it be called?) is home to the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 members, all elected by the UN General Assembly, currently include nominees from Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran. The governments of these countries are renowned for their systematic persecution of dissidents and minorities, their shameless resort to violence and torture to crush dissent, and their intuitive denial of religious liberty.
Multiple abuses of human rights on such a scale would in normal circumstances furnish the UNHRC with ample material for ongoing inquiries. But few have ever been forthcoming, and none has resulted in the slightest improvement in human rights in any of the Council’s member states. The Council is an organised hypocrisy. From its establishment, eight years ago, its obsessive focus has been on Israel, for the simple reason that this is the easiest method by which the states aforementioned, and their many allies in the Council chamber, can move the focus well away from their own borders.
Last month a special session of the Council was convened to consider the Gaza conflict anew. A resolution, comprising 1,871 vitriolic words, was solemnly adopted condemning Israel in the harshest possible terms, with but two passing references to the murder of Israeli civilians — and I should add that whereas this venomous resolution naturally named Israel repeatedly as a guilty party, there was not one explicit reference to the guilt of Gaza’s Hamas government, and not one acknowledgment of the fact that every one of the rockets launched from Gaza into Israel constituted a war crime.
Instead, the resolution announced that what was termed “an independent, international commission of inquiry” was to be “urgently” despatched “to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
The chairman of the commission is William Schabas, a Canadian-educated and much-published human rights lawyer who currently holds a string of professorial appointments, including the professorship of international law at Middlesex University
Schabas has made no secret of his views on Israel
here in Jewish north London.
I cannot believe that the appointment of Schabas was inadvertent, or that it was dictated solely by his credentials as an authority on genocide and the death penalty. His Jewish paternal grandparents emigrated from Galicia to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century. He is said to be proud of his Jewish ancestry, which I suspect played a significant part in him being asked to chair the UNHRC inquiry, since it suits those countries that pushed for this investigation to have a Jew at its head — as was, of course, the case with the appointment of Richard Goldstone to head the much-lampooned Gaza inquiry of 2009, which was also the UNHRC’s brainchild.
More important, however, is the fact that Schabas has made no secret of his views on Israel and Gaza. Some years ago, in an interview with the online journal intellectum he asked: “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel [Shimon Peres] for Gaza?” In 2010, in the Journal of International Law, Schabas opined that Benjamin Netanyahu was “the single individual most likely to threaten the survival of Israel.” At a meeting hosted last year in New York by the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Schabas declared: “My favourite would be Netanyahu within the dock of the International Criminal Court.”
Professor Schabas is fully entitled to express such views. But their expression seems to me to disqualify him from any role as a credible member of any UN-sponsored inquiry into the Gaza conflict. If he truly values his academic credentials, he must surely step aside.