Sunday, August 07, 2005

One More Reason to Dump the United Nations Commission on Human Rights

The United Nations Human Rights Commission is an easy target for UN critics, but this doesn't mean that they don't deserve the disdain and contempt that is usually heaped on them. Case in point: eight UN human rights experts have issued a statement condemning the current US-Russia sponsored "Road Map" talks between Israel and Palestine because the negotiations currently do not fully adhere to the ICJ's advisory opinion last summer condemning Israel's wall of separation as a violation of international law.

Now I may not be overly impressed with diplomacy, but I'm far less impressed with idiotic legalistic interventions into a delicate and complex territorial negotiation currently taking place between Israel and Palestine. The last thing these negotiations need is a statement of eight "special rapporteurs" claiming that ongoing negotiations may come into conflict with an advisory opinion issued by the ICJ.

As I've suggested before in the context of demands by these same rapporteurs to visit Guantanamo, these special rapporteurs are given fairly broad mandates to opine on anything they want, whether or not the full UN Commission has approved their statements. And, as this rather silly and potentially stupid, intervention suggests, the special rapporteurs may need to be reformed as aggressively as the Commission itself... preferably, out of existence entirely.


Blogger Atilla Arda said...

One might indeed question the timing of this intervention. It is however quite a different thing to assert that this is an “idiotic legalistic intervention”.

The ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the UN, has been consulted by the UN Secretary-General pursuant to Article 69(1) of the UN Charter and the ICJ has delivered it’s advisory opinion.

It is quite healthy to question the effectiveness of the ICJ’s power to opine (or the advisory powers of any organisation, for that matter). Obviously this group of legal experts does not rule out that the UN support for the Roadmap to peace is contrary to the ICJ’s advisory opinion.

They are reminding the parties involved that the ICJ has considered that: “The construction of the wall being built by Israel (…) and its associated régime, are contrary to international law. (…) [And that a]ll States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”

This having been said, I want to assure you that I am not blind for the positive contribution of the said wall to Israel’s legitimate desire to achieve peace and security for its people. But this is just a practical matter outside the scope of legal opinions (of the ICJ).

Atilla Arda

8/07/2005 1:00 PM  
Anonymous Hillel Neuer said...

I agree with Julian Ku.

There are many UN independent experts who do magnificent, vital work. But statements such as this one threaten to doom them to irrelevance--this time, even within the halls of the UN. More, the sloppy and frankly lawless inattention to their proper mandate--even under the most large and liberal interpretation-- suggests the system is spiralling out of control. The member states of the Commission are the only ones authorized to reel them in, but suffer from diplomatic timidity or indifference so long as their ox is not the one being gored.

It's worth recalling that this release came on the same day as moderate Arab leaders were urging support for the very negotiations knocked by the rapporteurs. “Implementing the Road Map, which includes Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is the only way to garner peace and guarantee the rights of all parties to ensure peace and stability in the region," said King Abdullah in a meeting with visiting Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz. “The Road Map plan — which was drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — provides for an independent Palestine at peace with Israel,” said the King.

And so the one-sided statement by the rapporteurs poses an obstacle to what has been encouraging progress on Middle East peace, and could not have come at a worse time. With Israeli-Arab negotiations suddenly breathing new signs of life—and with Israel making agonizing concessions for peace, even under the continuing fire of Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks—the rapporteurs’ express attack on the UN-sponsored Road Map negotiations is perplexing, and represents a giant step backwards.

It is a sad day when eight UN officials—citing formalistic arguments over pragmatic principles of conflict resolution—openly oppose bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians that are taking place under the internationally-recognized Road Map for peace.

The U.N. mandates of several signatories to the statement—including the experts on trafficking, discrimination, or violence against women—bear no apparent nexus to the issue of the security barrier. Judge Koroma of the ICJ wrote in 1999 that “[the appointment of] a special Rapporteur, or the fact that he has been entrusted with a mission by the United Nations, does not of itself allow him to operate outside his mandate.”

Say what you want about the barrier, but it has as much to do with trafficking in women as toxic waste has to do with torture in Iraq. (Oops, bad example -- the UN expert on toxic wastes in June 2004 signed a lengthy statement on that very topic.)

You'd think elementary principles like ultra vires are common sense and need no citation. Not so among the human rights industry here in Geneva, where there is often a reflexive defense of even the most absurd excesses of UN actors. When I suggested to some folks -- each one a lawyer, I'm sad to say -- that there was something amiss about experts speaking outside the confines of their mandate, one, veteran at a well-known religious-affiliated NGO, said she couldn't say why but was sure I must be wrong. The other (an LL.M. grad from a prestigious NYC school) similarly could not identify any problem for experts on X to pronounce themselves on Y. Nope, nothing at all.

(Julian Ku, you're invited to do some educational seminars here...)

Let's also note that the statement by the experts curiously made no mention--not a single word--of the terrorism that in the past five years has killed over 1,000 Israelis and injured more than 7,000. According to The Jerusalem Post, public opinion polls show that upwards of 90 percent of Israelis support the barrier as an effective means of preventing further suicide bombings. It has been spectacularly successful in saving lives and everyone knows it ain't going away so long as the suicide bombs continue.

Israel's High Court, the most activist in the world when it comes to overruling political or military decisions, has ordered changes to the barrier in consideration of humanitarian factors, even while upholding its security necessity under IHL principles. The government has complied and moved large sections. Of all this the rapporteurs said not a word.

8/08/2005 8:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The conflict in my homeland, Palestine, can be solved in two ways: Either by letting the balance of forces between the two sides decide the issue (and that's in essence what the "Road Map" is all about, if stripped of its euphemisms; or let international legal norms be the guideline for a solution, including human rights and UN resolutions. The Palestinian people, the weaker side, have consistently opted for a solution based on legal principles. I am surprised that a lawyer should support a solution based on might and faits-accomplis.

Elias Davidsson

8/12/2005 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Fernando R. Teson said...

The "Israeli Wall" advisory opinion is one of the most unfair, one-sided opinions ever to come out of any international court. I even wonder if it's not plainly anti-semitic. I subscribe entirely to Judge Buergenthal magnificent declaration, yet I think he's too restrained when he says that that Court's opinion merely "lacks credibility." The only thing I know is this: if Israel had done what the PC pro-Arab left-wing crowd (mostly European) wanted it to do --to be soft, to negotiate with terrorists, and so on- Israel would have ceased to exist long time ago. Bravo, Israel, and the United states, for hanging on.

8/14/2005 10:01 PM  
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