U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

After not being elected — for the first time in its history — to membership for the final sessions of the now-replaced UN Human Rights Commission (HRC), and sullenly sitting out the opening sessions of the HRC’s successor (the new but not-much-improved UN Human Rights Council), the U.S. did stand for elections has now joined the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The U.S. has supported Israel’s criticisms that the new Human Rights Council has spent too much time on Israel (and not enough time on other places where human rights are also being violated. The former Special Rapporteur on abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory for the Human Rights Council, John Dugard, has just written an article stating that “President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza”.

A statement put out by the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva states that “The United States assumes its seat on the Council with gratitude, humility, and in the spirit of cooperation. President Obama recently underscored that spirit, stating: ‘There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground’ — [W]e hope that this spirit is something shared by all countries, and particularly those elected to serve on this Council. If we are to ensure that together we effectively address the pressing human rights concerns of our time, we must be dedicated to finding and pursuing constructive paths toward our shared goals. When the United Nations was formed, it sent a powerful and historic message by placing human rights at the very core of its charter. To fully realize the charter’s aspirations, all member states must work to ensure that the United Nations offers a credible, balanced and effective forum for advancing human rights. For our part, the United States hopes to reinforce the ability of this Council to speak with one voice about situations that are an affront to human dignity. We will also be stalwart in our promotion of universality, transparency, and objectivity and we urge other members to dedicate themselves to these goals as well. We are mindful that adherence to these principles requires that all states be subject to review by this body, including our own. The United States further commits to continuing to be a strong advocate for all people who suffer from abuse and oppression, and to be a tireless defender of courageous individuals across the globe who work, often at great personal risk, on behalf of the rights of others … over the course of these years, the promotion and protection of human rights has become an ever-deepening fundamental value in American society. We look forward to sharing our national experience in pursuit of the enduring challenge of achieving these ideals, while also standing in solidarity with all those who promote the advance of human rights around the world”.

This statement, made by the U.S. representative in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, was received by email.

The U.S, — and other countries — have criticized the HRC (both versions) of spending too much time on alleged Israeli human rights abuses, and not enough time on problems elsewhere in the world (Darfur, of course, and also Myanmar, Zimbabwe, and other places).

In this context, it is interesting to juxtapose the high-minded words from the U.S, delegation upon joining the UN Human Rights Council with the fact that the U.S. State Department has sought to distance itself from the Human Rights Council’s present Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the American Professor Richard Falk — and has questioned Falk’s “objectivity”.

Here, below, is an excerpt from a just-published piece from Falk’s colleague and immediate predecessor, South African Profesor John Dugard, who recently served as chairman of the International Fact-finding Commission, sponsored by the Cairo-based League of Arab States, on the recent IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

In an article entitled “Israel’s Crimes, America’s Silence”, published in the 17 June issue of The Nation, Dugard wrote that “President Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World failed to address allegations that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Palestinians and people throughout the region were shocked at the firepower Israel brought to bear against Gaza’s civilians and do not want Palestinians’ ongoing misery to be further ignored. Many were surely waiting to hear from President Obama that the way to peace does not lie through the devastation of civilian life and infrastructure in Gaza. To date, too little mention has been made of investigations that show there is sufficient evidence to bring charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Israel’s political and military leadership for their actions in Gaza. Recently, two comprehensive independent reports have been published on Gaza, and earlier this month a mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, and chaired by South African Richard Goldstone, visited Gaza to conduct a further investigation into Israel’s offensive. On May 4 the United Nations published the findings of an investigation into attacks carried out by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on UN premises in Gaza. Led by Ian Martin, formerly head of Amnesty International, this investigation found Israel responsible for wrongfully killing and injuring Palestinians on UN premises and destroying property amounting to over $10 million in value. Although this investigation did not address the question of individual criminal responsibility, it is clear that the identified wrongful acts by Israel constituted serious war crimes. On May 7 the Arab League published the 254-page report of an Independent Fact Finding Committee (IFFC) it had established to examine the legal implications of Israel’s Gaza offensive. This committee, comprising six experts in international law, criminal law and forensic medicine from non-Arab countries, visited Gaza in February. We concluded that the IDF had committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the committee’s chairman, I spent five days in Gaza along with the other experts. Our views were deeply influenced by interviews we conducted with victims and by the evidence of destruction of property. We were particularly disturbed by the accounts of cold-blooded killings of civilians committed by some members of the IDF and the Israeli military’s use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas. The devastation was appalling and raised profound doubts in my mind as to the veracity of Israeli officials who claimed this was not a war against the Palestinian people. The IFFC found that the IDF … had failed to discriminate between civilian and military targets, terrorized civilians, destroyed property in a wanton manner not justified by military necessity and attacked hospitals and ambulances. It also found that the systematic and widespread killing, injuring and terrorizing of the civilian population of Gaza constituted a crime against humanity. The IFFC investigated the question whether the IDF was responsible for committing the ‘crime of crimes’– genocide. Here we concluded that although the evidence pointed in this direction, Israel lacked the intention to destroy the people of Gaza, which must be proved for the crime of genocide. Instead, the IFFC found that the purpose of the offensive was collective punishment aimed at reducing the population to a state of submission. However, the IFFC did not discount the possibility that individual soldiers had acted with the required genocidal intent. Israel’s argument that it acted in self-defense was rejected, inter alia, on the basis of evidence that Israel’s action was premeditated and not an immediate response to rockets fired by militants and was, moreover, disproportionate. The IFFC found that the IDF’s own internal investigation into allegations of irregularities, which exonerated the IDF, was unconvincing because it was not conducted by an independent body and failed to consider Palestinian evidence. The IFFC also examined the actions of Palestinian militants who fired rockets indiscriminately into southern Israel. We concluded that these actions constituted war crimes and that those responsible committed the war crimes of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the killing, wounding and terrorization of civilians ,,, A bold Obama speech on Gaza would have ensured that the public is on notice that it’s not business as usual in Washington. Even American allies, such as Israel, should have to answer evidence of serious international crimes. In this way, some measure of accountability may be achieved. With an active American push, a new view of the United States may begin to take shape after eight years of disregard for international and domestic law”. This piece was published in The Nation, here.

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