From The Times
September 29, 2009
A farcical attempt to paint Israel black
The UN Human Rights Council’s report into the Gaza conflict is a shamefully biased document
In the history of international organisations it is hard to conceive of an institution less fit for purpose than the absurdly titled UN Human Rights Council.
Since its inception in 2006, the UNHRC has included such champions of liberal values as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba. There is no doubting the comic value of such membership. Analogies spring to mind of Jack the Ripper leading a disciplinary inquiry at Scotland Yard, or Dr Harold Shipman chairing a panel discussion on medical care for the elderly. Yet for Israel, on the receiving end of this surreal hypocrisy, it is no laughing matter.
The latest example of its hypocrisy is the 575-page Goldstone report into the Gaza conflict at the beginning of this year. Israel, a democracy with an unquestionably free press and meticulously independent judiciary, faces a threat from terrorism unique in its intensity. Yet its obligations to defend its citizens from terror are being scrutinised, delegitimised and condemned by states in which the routine price of dissent is imprisonment without trial, torture or execution.
It is impossible to escape the obsession of the Human Rights Council (and I chuckle every time I write its name) with Israel. In three years, it has issued 25 resolutions against individual states: 20 of them targeted Israel. Basic maths suggests that Israel, a tiny democracy permanently threatened by dictatorships and terrorists, is guilty of 80 per cent of the world’s human rights offences. This is ridiculous, as is a human rights body with member states that still view public beheadings as a wholesome leisure activity.
The UNHRC’s glaring spotlight on Israel blinds it to its official purpose: it is oblivious to the one million displaced people in Somalia, one million displaced in Pakistan or the 300,000 Tamil civilians currently languishing in Sri Lanka. In Darfur Sudan is responsible for at least 400,000 deaths. Yet the council has never condemned the Sudanese Government, and in fact praised it for its “co-operation”.
The UNHRC also remains silent over the systematic rape and torture of pro-democracy activists protesting against the stolen election in Iran. That’s unsurprising. Last week, President Ahmadinejad once again spewed out an anti-Semitic rant at the UN General Assembly. But in April he was the keynote speaker of the UNHRC in Geneva. As the UN passes Mr Ahmadinejad the microphone, his regime recently silenced the leader of the Iranian bus workers’ union by quite literally slashing his tongue.
The Goldstone report’s lack of credibility has not gone unnoticed in all quarters. Canada, Japan and the EU all refused to support Justice Richard Goldstone’s mission from the start. Even Switzerland, which has often lavished red-carpet treatment on tyrants, acknowledged that the anti-Israel bigotry of Goldstone’s team made it unsupportable. Mary Robinson, the former Irish President and a fierce critic of Israel, described Goldstone’s mandate as “guided not by human rights but by politics”.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the report wilfully ignores the context of Operation Cast Lead. Israeli civilians were battered for eight years by thousands of missiles from Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, hoping the missiles would stop. Instead, the attacks increased, escalating further when Hamas seized power in a brutal coup in 2007. With a million Israelis under fire, and Hamas’s range increasing, Israel did what any democratic state would do. It defended its citizens.
Israel did its utmost to direct Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way. But the report overlooks the Israeli Army’s warning leaflets, text messages and daily humanitarian pauses in the fighting.
Most shamefully of all, the UNHRC has whitewashed the illegal tactics of Hamas. Hamas used mosques as arsenals, playgrounds as rocket launch pads and hospitals as battle command centres. Despite a wealth of video and eyewitness evidence, Goldstone failed to condemn these crimes. Ludicrously, Goldstone defines members of Hamas’s police force as “civilians”, despite their role in implementing and enforcing Hamas’s bloody takeover of Gaza.
The Goldstone report’s assertion that the Israeli courts cannot be trusted is as dishonest as it is insulting. Israel’s legal system holds its army to account at least as thoroughly as any in the free world. Israeli courts have scrutinised previous military operations, and mistakes or wrongdoing have been punished at the highest levels. Legal investigations into the war in Gaza are already under way. Difficult issues, including the use of white phosphorus, as reported by The Times, will not be ignored. But Israel does not need lectures in transparent, democratic legal process from a report mandated by dictatorships.
This report undermines the challenges faced anywhere in the world where accountable armies of democracies confront unaccountable terrorists shielding behind civilians. Nato forces in Afghanistan face a similar problem. On this occasion, it is Israel that has been singled out. But British soldiers on the front line against terror in Afghanistan might also find themselves pursued by a deranged Gaddafi, an unhinged Ahmadinejad or their friends at the UN Human Rights Council.
The UNHRC will meet in Geneva today to congratulate itself on its latest triumph in hypocrisy. For the world’s worst dictators and terrorists, the UNHRC is nothing but a fancy-dress party with a judicial theme. Sadly, on this occasion Richard Goldstone was willing to lend them his costume.
Ron Prosor is the Israeli Ambassador to the UK