Monday, June 25, 2007

UN "Human Rights Travesty" (Irwin Cotler)

This powerful piece by Irwin Cotler follows up one aspect of the UN "Human Rights" update I posted earlier.
The UN Human Rights Council has concluded its year-long session by singling out one member state -- Israel -- for permanent indictment on the council agenda.

This discriminatory treatment is not only prejudicial to Israel, but it is a breach of the United Nations Charter's foundational principle of "equality for all nations, large and small," and it concluded a week -- and year -- of unprecedented discriminatory conduct. [....]

It is not only one state that is under assault. The bell is tolling for the UN Human Rights Council itself. It is time to sound the alarm and return the council to its founding principles and ideals.
Irwin Cotler, a Canadian Member of Parliament and former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, is a major figure in international human rights law. As his Wikipedia mini-bio indicates, his record includes serving as counsel
to former prisoners of conscience Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timerman in Latin America, Muchtar Pakpahan in Asia, as well as other well known political prisoners and dissidents. Cotler represented Natan Sharansky, who was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag for Jewish activism. [....]

Saad Ibrahim, an Egyptian democracy activist imprisoned by the Egyptian government, was represented by Cotler and acquitted in 2003. He acted as counsel to Maher Arar during part of Arar's imprisonment and supported demands for a public inquiry. He has also defended both Palestinians and Israelis against their own governments, and participated in a minor role in the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
And so on. Cotler's deep and abiding commitment to the principles of human rights and international law helps to explain the genuine anguish expressed in he piece below, which is worth reading in full.

--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
Boston Globe
June 23, 2007
Human Rights Travesty

By Irwin Cotler

GENEVA. The UN Human Rights Council has concluded its year-long session by singling out one member state -- Israel -- for permanent indictment on the council agenda.

This discriminatory treatment is not only prejudicial to Israel, but it is a breach of the United Nations Charter's foundational principle of "equality for all nations, large and small," and it concluded a week -- and year -- of unprecedented discriminatory conduct.

The week began with Archbishop Desmond Tutu reporting to the UN Human Rights Council on the fact-finding mission to investigate the Israeli "willful killing of Palestinian civilians" in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, in November 2006. He received a standing ovation, an extraordinary reaction by a body that frowns even upon applause.

I suspect the appreciation was as much for the man as anything else. For the mandate that authorized the mission was a sham. It made a mockery of the council's own founding principles and procedures. Accordingly, when I addressed the council that same morning, I made public that I had been invited by the council president last November to join the mission but declined to do so, and I explained why.

I could not accept the mandate because its terms of reference made a mockery of Kofi Annan's vision for the new council and of its founding principles of universality, equality, and fairness.

First, I could not accept a mandate to hear only one side of a dispute. The terms of reference deliberately ignored the Palestinian rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Sderot that preceded Israel's actions. How could one participate in a mandate that denied a member state the right to a fair hearing and fundamental due process?

Second, the mandate also violated the presumption of innocence. The resolution establishing this fact-finding mission began by condemning "the Israeli willful killing of Palestinian civilians." The 19 Palestinian dead were a tragedy. But how could one participate in a fact-finding mission where the facts and the verdict were determined in advance?

It is not surprising, therefore, that the council members that most consistently support the human rights mechanisms of this body -- including Canada -- all refused to support this mandate.

Regrettably, this discriminatory and one-sided approach has become the norm. Council sessions of the past year reflected not only the same contempt for the rule of law, but the systematic singling out of a member state for selective and discriminatory treatment, while granting the major violators exculpatory immunity.

For example, there have been nine resolutions condemning one member state only -- Israel -- but none of any of the other 191 members of the international community, including, for example, no condemnation of the genocide in Darfur nor of the public and direct incitement to genocide and massive human rights violations in Iran.

Indeed, in a world where human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, Israel, portrayed as a meta-human rights violator, emerges as the new anti-Christ of the international arena.

And as if this were not enough, the council has now institutionalized forever the Alice in Wonderland condemnatory process, and the corresponding drumbeats of indictment.

First, the council has now institutionalized the condemnation of Israel as a standing item on the council agenda -- the permanent singling out of a member state for differential and discriminatory treatment.

Second, it has not institutionalized the mandate of the special investigator on "Israeli violations of the principles and bases of international law" in the Palestinian territories -- the only indefinite, open-ended, and one-sided investigative mandate.

The tragedy in all this is not only that it fuels the ongoing delegitimization, if not the demonization, of a member state of the United Nations. Or that it provides succor and assistance to those, like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who envision "a world without Israel," as well as those who target Israel alone as the object of boycotts and sanctions.

Rather, the tragedy is that all of this takes place under the protective cover of the United Nations, with the presumed imprimatur of international law, and the halo banner of human rights.

It is not only one state that is under assault. The bell is tolling for the UN Human Rights Council itself. It is time to sound the alarm and return the council to its founding principles and ideals.

Irwin Cotler is a Canadian member of Parliament and a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

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