Dugard – UNSG BAN Ki-Moon should quit Quartet

The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, John Dugard, has said today that the UN Secretary General should pull out of the Quartet that the U.S. has put together to support President Bush’s moves for Middle East peace — unless the Quartet begins to pay due regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Palestinian territory.

His remarks come as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah to check on progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ahead of Middle East peace talks that the U.S. will host in Annapolis later this year.

After a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today, Rice told journalists at a joint press conference that both parties’ “obligations are spelled out in a really rather concrete way in the first phase of the roadmap” and that “the United States will be working with both parties to make certain that those roadmap obligations are implemented. I think that is an important role that we can play as a member of the Quartet and as a party with friendly relations with both Israel and the Palestinians”.

Dugard, a South African professor of international law who formerly opposed the now-eradicated Apartheid regime in his country, was interviewed today by the BBC World Service, and by Al-Jazeera TV’s English service. “Every time I visit [the occupied Palestinian territory], the situation seems to have worsened” he told the BBC. He last visited the Palestinian territory in late September, just a few weeks ago.

On Al-Jazeera today, in English, he criticized the Quartet for not ever having mentioned the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on The Wall.

Rice will have had to pass through a formidable Israeli checkpoint that allows only a few Palestinians to pass through The Wall on her trips to and from Ramallah, in the West Bank, but she is not known to have ever taken a closer look or a more in-depth tour of The Wall.

Dugard has become increasingly testy in recent years, while staying totally on message. Israel has criticized Dugard as biased and pro-Palestinian, yet Dugard is one of the few UN Human Rights experts who has actually come to Israel, in order to investigate the situation in the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. However, his mandate does not include looking into the human rights situation in Israel itself. Nor has he ever been given an official Israeli visa in his United Nations Laissez Passer to conduct his missions, and he enters the country on his national passport (i.e., as a tourist). Israeli officials do not receive Dugard, officially, either.

Other UN Human Rights officials and envoys have generally refused to come unless they were given official Israeli visas for their missions.

Dugard’s increasingly bold statements suggest that he must have some assurances, now, that he has the backing of his own government — South Africa — which is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council at present.

Dugard must also be provoked by a controversy that is surrounding remarks about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians made by South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu — a Nobel Peace Prize winner — who has been recently been disinvited and then reinvited to speak to a midwestern American university conference on human rights. [See next post here .]

Archbishop Tutu, a compatriot of Dugards, and a fellow anti-Apartheid activist, was named to head a UN Human Rights Council investigation into the deaths of a large number of Palestinian civilians — many members of the same family — who were killed in their sleep by an Israeli artillery attack on Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza late last year. The investigation mission did not get Israeli agreement to proceed. [See our previous post, Sometimes not making a decision is making a decision, here.]

Dugard’s interviews today appear to be copy-cat follow-ups of an earlier interview he did with Al-Jazeerza’s Arabic TV Channel on 29 September. In that interview, Dugard said, according to a summary reported by the Ramattan independent Palestinian news agency, that “the United Nations and the Quartet neglect his reports and recommendations”. In the Al-Jazeera interview, according to Ramattan, Dugard suggested that the Quartet seemed all too eager to back U.S. policies favoring Israel’s positions. And, Ramattan reported on 30 September, “In an interview with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel, yesterday, the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, John Dugard, said that Ki-moon receives directions from Washington”.

However, these reports have had an impact. Last week, according to a report published on 9 October also by Ramattan news agency, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, called for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to quit his post “because of his full partiality towards Israel“.

The facts, as they say, are not contested: Israel’s President Shimon Peres said confidently, in a press conference at his residence in Jerusalem less than a month ago with members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, that Israel is “today being supported by the Quartet”.

Zahar served as Foreign Minister in the Palestinian Authority after the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections in early 2006 — but he did not continue in the National Unity Government created after a short-lived Fatah-Hamas reconciliation forged in Mecca in March this year. In a written statement issued in Gaza last week, Zahar cited Dugard’s remarks as broadcast by Al-Jazeera in Arabic to say that “We follow up with a great concern the biased steps carried out by the UN in relation to Middle East conflicts … There is an increasing partiality towards the Israeli occupation, and not only this, but also it (the UN) adopts the occupation’s position. It also goes far beyond this and justified the occupation’s crimes”, al-Zahar said, according to the Ramattan News Agency report.

In his interviews today, Dugard told the BBC that “the UN ‘does itself little good by remaining a member of the Quartet’.” Dugard told the BBC that “on his most recent visit, he ‘was very struck by the sense of hopelessness among the Palestinian people’, which he attributed to ‘the crushing effect of human rights violations’, and in particular the Israeli restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement … He said the purpose of some of the checkpoints in the middle of the West Bank was to break it up ‘into a number of cantons and make the life of Palestinians as miserable as possible’.” Dugard added that the Quartet “was weak ‘because it was ‘heavily influenced’ by the US … The UN ‘should be playing the role of the mediator [but] Instead the international community has given its support almost completely to one faction – to Fatah’, he said. ‘That’s not the role the UN should take’.”

To Al Jazeera’s English channel, Dugard said today that “the Quartet of Middle East negotiators are not dealing effectively with the issue of Palestinian human rights”. He told Al-Jazeera that the UN should withdraw from the Quartet – which is composed of the US, EU and Russia, as well as the UN Secretary-General – “If the UN is not able to persuade other members of the Quartet, particularly the US, to acknowledge that Israel is a serious violator of human rights and is in serious violation of international law”.

Dugard’s recent remarks — which he said will be reflected in a report he is due to present shortly to the UN General Assembly — reflect in important ways the End-of-Mission Report written by the second UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Alvaro de Soto, who resigned his post in frustration last May.

That report, which was designated as “confidential”, was published in its entirety in June on the website of The Guardian newspaper.

In that report, de Soto indicated that the last straw, for him, were remarks made by UN Secretary-General BAN on 25 March of this year, immediately after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

De Soto wrote that UNSG BAN at that time “introduced explicitly, for the first time, the notion of conditionality — i.e. that meeting in future with the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority [n.b., Gaza-based Ismail Haniya of Hamas] would depend on the positions and actions of that government. I fail to see why it was necessary to escalate the UN’s position, and more so to cross the conditionality line. On the contrary, given that this was post-Mecca [after which Abbas/Fatah and Hamas had reconciled and all had agreed to form a National Unity Government whose main objective was the creation of a Palestinian State] we should, I felt, have been loosening, not tightening, our policy. His taking that position effectively buried my consistent efforts to salvage the significant role which the UN might have played in assisting the evolution of Hamas in government, and even as a movement, and with it the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My decision to leave the UN was reached for a number of reasons, and cumulatively, but, in retrospect, that was probably the tipping point — the point at which I concluded that my uphill effort was not going to succeed”.

A group of retired U.S. Ambassadors and officials has recently urged U.S. Secretary of State Rice to bring Hamas into a second stage of the projected Middle East peace conference that are still tentatively set to be held later this year in Annapolis.

In an interview with a Palestinian journalist [in Ramallah?] today, Rice was cagey about the issue of possible Hamas participation in the proposed peace conference: “Eventually, you want the widest possible Palestinian representation, but that representation ought to be representation that believes that a two-state solution is possible. And in order to believe that a two-state solution is possible, you have to recognize the right of the other party to exist. You have to be willing to renounce violence and say that the state is going to come through negotiation. And so you have in President Abbas who, by the way, represents all of the Palestinian people. He was elected by the Palestinian people. He represents the legitimate institutions of the Palestinian people and he is the chairman of the PLO, which is the negotiating body for the Palestinian people. So in every sense, he is the legitimate representative. But eventually I hope that the concrete nature of the vision of a Palestinian state will lead to unity among all responsible Palestinians to carry out that state”.

In an apparently parallel interview with an Israeli journalist in Jerusalem today, Rice said: “We are not quite ready to start inviting people yet. We need to let this process move forward a little bit more, particularly between the parties. It’s extremely important. They’ve established far more confidence in each other than frankly I thought they would have, by this time, given how difficult circumstances were just several months ago when there was a unity government about which Israel was quite suspicious, given it was a unity government that had not accepted the roadmap conditions. And so now they’ve moved forward. I really believe it’s important to let them continue to work for a while. And then we’ll invite in plenty of time for people to get there, I assure you”.

The planned peace conference, Rice said, “is a meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian issue” only — this, she indicated, is “a more mature track” at the present time, while any more comprehensive peace talks, involving occupied Syrian territory, for example, would have to wait.

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