Bahrainis go to UN in Geneva to discuss their government's implementation of its human rights treaty obligations

Here is a photo of the Bahraini human rights defenders who travelled to the UN Office in Geneva to participate in the Human Rights Council’s discussion, on 21 May, of their country’s implementation of its human rights treaty obligations. This group feel strongly that there should be major improvements:

This photo was posted and announced on Twitter via @DominicKavakeb, who Tweeted tonight:
Great photo outside the Palais Des Nations after the #BahrainUPR #Bahrain http://yfrog.com/esr09yij”

This group, in fact, brought their “Arab Spring” experience to the international community, in their appearance at the UN Human Rights Council’s “Universal Periodic Review” [UPR] of Bahrain’s human rights performance [vs its treaty obligations].

Al-Jazeera’s report on Bahrain’s UPR, including a Q+A with opposition politician Khalil Al-Maqzooq, is posted Youtube here.

Continue reading Bahrainis go to UN in Geneva to discuss their government's implementation of its human rights treaty obligations

Mubarak stepping down?

UPDATE: At 11:00 pm, five hours after schedule, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak made his third pre-recorded speech to the nation. However, he did not step down, as had been expected. In one brief sentence that almost passed without notice, he delegated powers to the Vice President he appointed two weeks ago, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. An, he said he had just proposed amending several articles [76, 77, 88, 93, 189] of the Egyptian constitution, and the annulment of another article [179] which, he said, would “clear the way to abolishing the Emergency Law”, once the security situation was ensured. Mubarak also said he would not be separated from the soil until he was buried beneath it.

Earlier this week, Egyptian human rights activist Hossam Baghat [founder and executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights] said, in an interview on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! radio program on 7 February: “Look, the consensus amongst everyone is right now that the solution can only begin with [Egypt’s President Husni] Mubarak stepping down. Now, there are some differences, technical differences, about, you know, whether he should resign fully, immediately, or whether he should step aside by delegating all of his powers to the vice president, like he did when he was hospitalized in 2004 and later in 2010, and then, in a couple of weeks, resign once we have ensured that we the provisions that are necessary for a meaningful presidential election. I am of the view that if Mubarak is to resign immediately, then it is 100 percent certain that Omar Suleiman will be elected within 60 days as president for a full presidential term of six years. That is not a prospect that would satisfy me as an advocate for democracy and human rights and someone who wants to see a real end to three decades of Mubarak rule. And Omar Suleiman’s succession will unfortunately be a continuation, in my view, of the Mubarak regime and the violations perpetrated under Mubarak. So I am of the view that Mubarak must immediately step down by delegating all of his authorities to his vice president, that we need within a couple of weeks to put to a public referendum some amendments of the constitutional provisions to make sure that we can have free and fair presidential elections”.

The full radio program is posted Continue reading Mubarak stepping down?

Why is Palestinian Authority against Richard Falk?

A shocking story: Ma’an News Agency reported from Chicago today that “Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said on Monday the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged him to step down after he criticized the PA’s treatment of a UN war crimes report”.

Continue reading Why is Palestinian Authority against Richard Falk?

U.S. diplomat: Palestinian Authority should investigate Hamas violations in Gaza war

A  U.S. diplomat representing her country at a debate of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee last week said, after hearing the presentation of Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, that “her delegation had serious reservations about the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation, including that anybody request an opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel’s refusal to cooperate” …

This diplomat, who is not indentified in the UN press release summary of the Third Committee meeting, “noted that Israel had received at least 100 complaints of abuse in Gaza and had already investigated several of them.  On other hand, Hamas was a terrorist group that had seized control of Gaza and had no institutions to deal with these violations.  She requested that the Palestinian Authority carry out its own investigation into the violations of international law by Hamas”.

The Palestinian Authority would probably just love to do so …

The UN press release noted that, in a response, Falk said that all three of the Special Rapporteurs who spoke that day to the Third Committee “had faced the same problems of non-cooperation from the country they were tasked with assessing.  He believed that it was the responsibility of the international community, as well as the General Assembly, to take this non-cooperation seriously and to address it in a non-political manner.  Israel should receive the same focus that Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did”.

Continue reading U.S. diplomat: Palestinian Authority should investigate Hamas violations in Gaza war

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”.

Continue reading U.S. Joins the UN Human Rights Council

Sudan's President indicted – UN in panic about 25,000 staff on ground – interesting blog report from UN about triumphalist press conferences

The President of Sudan has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity — but not on charges of genocide.

The Arab League will meet at ministerial level to discuss the implications etc.

The UN is in a panic, worried about its 25,000 staff on the ground that it may have to evacuate.

Medecins Sans Frontiers announced on Wednesday that it was pulling its staff out. Later, the Sudanese government gave orders to a number of other human rights and humanitarian aid organizations to leave immediately.
Continue reading Sudan's President indicted – UN in panic about 25,000 staff on ground – interesting blog report from UN about triumphalist press conferences

Israeli human rights groups ask: "Can a moral society live as if nothing is happening (in Gaza)"?

“The level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented”, said an all-star line-up of Israeli human rights organizations at a group press conference in West Jerusalem at midday today.

They were speaking of the people in Gaza.

Since the start of the Israeli Defense Force’s Operation Cast Lead on 27 December, the human rights groups said, ‘military forces are making wanton use of lethal force which has to date caused the deaths of hundreds of uninvolved civilians and destroyed infrastructure and property on an enormous scale. In addition, Israel is also hitting civilian objects, having defined them as ‘legitimate military targets’ solely by virtue of their being ‘symbols of government’.”

And, caught in the middle, are “1.5 million civilians in extreme humanitarian distress”.

But to say, as the human rights groups did, in the same breath, and in a polite and even-handed way, that the IDF is providing “limited help” is both a gross exaggeration and a huge understatement. See our earlier post calling attention to this problem here.

The human rights groups also said that “a heavy suspicion has arisen of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces. After the end of the hostilities, the time will come for the investigation of this matter, and accountability will be demanded of those responsible for the violations”.

But right now, they said, there is a “clear and present danger” that must be faced.

Sari Bashi, the Executive Director of GISHA, said that it was important to note that “this crisis was pre-planned since the September 2007 Cabinet decision” that branded the Gaza Strip –one of the most densely-populated areas on earth — an “enemy entity” or a “hostile territory”. Gaza was systematically emptied of vital supplies, Bashi explained. But, while the policy is described as being directed against Hamas, it is really against civilians, she said.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense was tasked with implementing this Cabinet decision, and they did so by coldly and cruelly and carelessly conducting what can only be called an obscene laboratory experiment in seeing how much vital supplies could be cut before a “humanitarian crisis” would inevitably ensue. Supplies of fuel and gas were cut by 15% starting at the end of October 2007 — and Israel’s Supreme Court allowed even cuts to directly-supplied electricity (though these were quickly rescinded when the drastic effects were quickly observed). The military pledged it would avoid creating a “humanitarian crisis” — but how did the military define that? By January 2008, Gaza’s only power plant had completely run out of reserves, and was operating only on what it received day to day. The IDF shut down the transfer facility for days because of fighting in the area, and the power plant soon had no fuel left to operate, and it shut down on 21 January. It soon grew much more complicated — with Fatah-allied groups skirmishing with the IDF whenever the fuel situation became critical, causing more frequent interruptions in supply. Then there was a payment dispute. Then there were accusations of Hamas requisitioning part of the fuel supplied. And this is only one part of the overall picture.

The human rights groups said that “fighting is taking place throughout the Gaza Strip, whose border crossings are closed, so that residents have nowhere to flee … The health system has collapsed. Hospitals are unable to provide adequate treatment to the injured, nor can patients be evacuated to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip. This state of affairs is causing the death of injured persons, or chronically ill patients, who could have been saved … Areas that were subject to intensive attacks are completely isolated … The army is preventing local and international rescue teams from accessing those places and is also refraining from helping them itself, even though it is required to do so by law. Many of the residents do not have access to electricity or running water, and in many populated areas sewage water is running in the streets”. They said that “This kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of warfare and raises the suspicion, which we ask be investigated, of the commission of war crimes. The responsibility of the State of Israel in this matter is clear and beyond doubt. The army’s complete control of the battle zones and the access roads to them does not allow Israel to transfer that responsibility to other “…

Medical rescue teams could not come to the aid of the injured, either because there was no “coordination” with the IDF, or — even if there was such coordination — the rescue teams were subject to attack anyway, even in clearly marked vehicles. And so far, some 7 medical rescue workers had been killed, and 17 wounded, while 15 medical facilities had been attacked.

“You don’t direct fire at targets where there are civilians”, Jessica Montell of B’Tselem told the press conference. She added later that “there is no way to compare or to have a competition of suffering. The situation is intolerable and must be stopped”.

“Even if Hamas people are hiding at a hospital, as long as fire has not come from that hospital, by international law there is no justification for military action, and a hospital does not become a legitimate target”.

Montell, the B’Tselem official, confirmed that her organization had received reports from eyewitnesses, which it transferred to the military, that a woman who walked out of her house yesterday in the village of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, waving a white flag, was shot. Injured, and lying the ground where she had fallen, the woman had continued to wave the white flag until she was shot in the head. An ambulance which tried to reach the woman was fired at. Later in the day, a group of 30 civilians waving white flags was also shot at, and at least three more people died. Montell said she could not confirm greater numbers, but said that “This is not the first time that we get such information about the IDF shooting people who leave their houses with white flags, or waving white sheets.”

The human rights groups called on the Prime Minister and the Defense establishment to act immediately to:
“1. Stop the disproportionate harm to civilians, and stop targeting civilian objects that do not serve any military purpose, even if they meet the definition of ‘symbols of government’.
2. Open a route for civilians to escape the battle zone, while guaranteeing their ability to return home at the end of the fighting.
3. Provide appropriate and immediate medical care to all of the injured and ill of the Gaza Strip, either by evacuating them to medical centers outside of the Gaza Strip or by reaching another solution inside the Gaza Strip.
4. Allow rescue and medical teams to reach battle-torn zones to evacuate the injured and bring supplies to those who remain there. Alternatively, the army must carry out those activities itself.
5. Secure the proper operation of the electricity, water and sewage systems so that they meet the needs of the population”.

There are also disturbing reports about detainees, according to Dalia Kerstein of Hamoked. “The Army has a lot of new arguments [including about the detainees being “illegal combattants”], and a number of people are unaccounted for. She said there There are reports that there are huge puts dug, where people are held in terrible conditions, with no food and no water, before being transferred to Sde Tal Mon, a military base in the south of Israel itself [outside Gaza].

Michael Sfard, the attorney for Yesh Din, said that the press conference had been convened not only from fear of the present humanitarian catastrophe, which is acute and which will become worse. But, he said, afterwards, this will have to be investigated — “and Israeli society will have to look into the mirror and ask, ‘how did we do what we did’?”

Asked by a journalist why the Israeli public is so supportive of this military operation, Sfard replied that “This question bothers us as well”. He said that he felt he was witnessing “a moral corruption destroying everything at a fantastic pace … What we would like to evoke here is not only the legal situation, but also the moral aspects. Can a society which is moral live as if nothing is happening?”

Day 17 of Israeli attacks on Gaza – no let-up in sight: UPDATED

Almost 900 Palestinian deaths have been confirmed in Gaza — and nearly 4,000 Palestinians have been wounded [UPDATE – the UN is reporting this evening 4250 Palestinians injured so far, and at least ten percent in critical conditions]– on the 17th day of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which started on 27 December, and which is said to be aimed at changing the “security situation” in Israel’s south.

The attacks are continuing.

The AP reported that “Early Monday, Israeli navy gunboats fired more than 25 shells at Gaza City, setting fires and shaking office buildings, including the local bureau of The Associated Press. The military said that in general, the targets are Hamas installations but had no immediate information about the shelling that began just after midnight”. This report can be read in full here.

Yaakov Katz reported in the Jerusalem Post that “Israel dispatched reserve units to the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the IDF was said to be carving out a ‘security zone’ along the border, which it would retain even after an end to the fighting and use to conduct routine patrols aimed at halting rocket attacks against the South … A senior [Israeli] military officer who is commanding forces fighting inside Gaza said on Sunday that Hamas terrorists were trying to cross the line the IDF had created separating northern Gaza from the south. Some attempts to cross the line, he said, were made by Hamas gunmen hiding inside Red Crescent ambulances … On Saturday, flyers were dropped on Gaza City warning residents of a wider offensive. ‘The IDF is not working against the people of Gaza but against Hamas and the terrorists only’, the flyer said. ‘Stay safe by following our orders’.” This report can be seen here .

The Israeli military has spoken for some time of its desire to create “security zones” in the outer periphery of the small and already very over-populated Gaza Strip — one of the most densely-populated places on the planet. It is about 25 miles long and 6 or so miles wide.

Amira Hass reported in Haaretz, after speaking to her contacts in Gaza, that “As of Sunday, the streets of Gaza are full of people fleeing – both from Sheikh Ajleen [to the south of Gaza City], an area with open fields and houses, where battles between Hamas gunmen and Israel Defense Forces soldiers are taking place, but also from nearby neighborhoods. Everyone is carrying his possessions … A relatively small number – some 20,000 – have found refuge in UNRWA schools. Many more have moved in with relatives and friends: in Gaza City, Rafah, Khan Yunis, Beit Hanun and the Nuseirat refugee camp. The military is steadily forcing the areas known as ‘population concentrations’ to move inward, ‘clearing’ areas on the periphery – first the agricultural land, and now the neighborhoods bordering them – and pushing people into an increasingly smaller territory“. This report is posted here.

The Jerusalem office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process reported that as of 17h00 on Sunday, “The number of displaced people staying with host families remains unknown, but reports indicate that it is likely to number in the tens of thousands. According to the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, an estimated 80,000–90,000 people have been displaced, including up to 50,000 children. UNRWA opened four new shelters on 10 January in response to increased demand in Gaza City, Jabalia, and Deir al Balah. UNRWA is currently operating 31 shelters providing refuge to 25,696 people, an increase of over 4,000 from 9 January … Access between northern Gaza and the rest of the territory remains possible only via the coastal road west of the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim and is restricted to humanitarian relief assistance (including ambulances) following coordination with the Israeli authorities“.

The IDF announced this morning that today’s three-hour lull for “humanitarian respite” would be from 10a.m. to 1p.m. — and that a number of trucks would go in from Kerem Shalom and Karni carrying food and medical supplies (but no fuel, apparently)

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza reported on Sunday that the IDF ground operation had expanded over the previous 24 hours, and it accused the IDF of using “incinerating bombs in the areas into which they moved. According to residents of these areas, they have never been subjected to shelling by such kind of shells, which are like inflaming objects that explode and disperse shrapnel. They release white smoke that causes suffocation and fainting”.

From the start of the Operation, which is now in its third week, there have been persistent reports that the IDF was detaining many males, and taking them away for questioning in an unknown location. These men are still under detention.

Yesterday, the PCHR reported that a number of houses in various areas of Gaza have been siezed, and their occupants detained inside, in poor conditions: “Palestinian civilians in these houses have been denied access to food and water, and they have been even used by IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] as human shields during armed clashes with Palestinian resistance groups”.

The PCHR warned that the lives of Palestinian civilians are endangered in light of threats vowed by Israeli political and military officials to expand military operations against the population of the Gaza Strip.

And the PCHR called again for immediate intervention from “the international community” to stop the Israeli attacks, and urged the States Parties to the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War to fulfill their obligations to ensure respect for its provisions — and to search for and to prosecute those responsible for grave breeches of the convention, because such grave breeches constitute war crimes.

The Gaza-based organization also called for investigations into crimes committed by the UN and by the UN Human Rights Council into crimes committed during the on-going attacks, in particular into the reported use of internationally-prohibited weapons against the Palestinian civilian population.

UPDATE: The Agence France Presse news agency is reporting from Oslo that two medics who just returned home to Norway after spending 10 days working at Gaza City’s main hospital — including the often-quoted surgeon, Mads Gilbert — said they believe “Israel is testing a new ‘extremely nasty’ type of weapon in Gaza”.

The AFP report said that ” ‘There’s a very strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a test laboratory for new weapons’, Mads Gilbert told reporters at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, commenting on the kinds of injuries he and his colleague Erik Fosse had seen while working at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The two medics, who were sent into the war zone by the pro-Palestinian aid organisation NORWAC on December 31, said they had seen clear signs that Dense Inert Metal Explosives (DIME), an experimental kind of explosive, were being used in Gaza. ‘This is a new generation of very powerful small explosives that detonates with an extreme power and dissipates its power within a range of five to 10 metres (16-98 feet)’, said Gilbert, 61. ‘We have not seen the casualties affected directly by the bomb because they are normally torn to pieces and do not survive, but we have seen a number of very brutal amputations… without shrapnel injuries which we strongly suspect must have been caused by the DIME weapons'” he added. The weapon ’causes the tissue to be torn from the flesh. It looks very different (from a shrapnel injury). I have seen and treated a lot of different injuries for the last 30 years in different war zones, and this looks completely different’, said Fosse, 58 … Gilbert also accused Israel of having used the weapon in the 2006 Lebanon war and previously in Gaza, and referred to studies showing wounds from the explosive could cause lethal forms of cancer within just four to six months. ‘Israel should disclose what weapons they use and the international community should make an investigation’, he said, stressing the amount of damage apparently caused by the new form of explosive. ‘ We are not soft-skinned when it comes to war injuries, but these amputations are really extremely nasty and for many of the patients not survivable’, he said”. This AFP report is posted here.

Haaretz reported, meanwhile, that 700 protesters (of whom 237 were minors) — all either Israeli Arab citizens or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem — have been arrested since the start of the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Dozens have been indicted, and 226 are still in custody, according to the Haaretz report. “Most of the protests that led to arrests took place in Jerusalem or the north. Palestinians and Israeli left-wing activists [this terminology ususally means Jewish rather than Arab] claim that in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF has reintroduced the use of a semiautomatic rifle that uses live ammunition to disperse crowds that was banned after the second Intifada. The Ruger .22 rifle was banned following the Al-Aqsa Intifada, in which it was used to break up protests and caused the deaths of a number of Palestinians, including youths and children”. This report can be read in full here.

The Jerusalem Post, however, said Monday that the IDF has back-tracked from an earlier report that there had been a mistake in targetting that resulted in killing about 40 people sheltering in a UNRWA school in Jabalya last week. Later in the week, the JPost wrote, an AP story “reported that Israeli defense officials have said in private that at the time of the attack, the IDF was returning fire at Hamas men who had just fired a rocket at Israel. The army fired three mortar shells, two of which hit the target and one missed by about 30 meters, causing the casualties at the school, whose number the IDF believes was inflated by Hamas”. But, upon following up, the JPost reported that it was told, by IDF Capt. Ishai David, that “We are still sticking by our official position that according to our initial inquiry, the whole thing started when terrorists fired mortar shells from the school compound [at soldiers]. The IDF returned fire to the source, and the unfortunate result was the death of innocent civilians”. David said. Capt. David also told the JPost that in another case as well, there has been no finding that the IDF shot and killed an UNRWA relief truck driver in last week near the Erez crossing. David said that “the initial inquiry indicates that it was not IDF fire that killed him.” This story can be read in full here.

Haaretz today carries a report on the opinion of Prof. Yuval Shany, an expert in international law from Hebrew University’s law faculty, about possible violations during the current IDF operation: “The relevant question, he said, is ‘whether the operation is proportionate to the provocation that led to it. When a single Qassam [rocket] is fired, the state cannot invade and conquer an entire country. There must be a measure of proportion between the action and the reaction. But here, we are not talking about a single Qassam, but about years of Qassams’. Israel, he continued, ‘is permitted to use force to the degree necessary to end the attacks against it. Therefore, it [the operation] is legal as long as it is meant to prevent the attacks’ … However, Shany stressed, by law, Israel would not have the right to use force to effect regime change in the Gaza Strip … Regarding claims that Israel has deprived Gaza of fuel and electricity, and prevented the evacuation of the wounded, Shany said that once Israel has taken control of the Strip, it must enable the population’s humanitarian needs to be met. This includes an obligation to treat the wounded and to supply food, water and electricity. This report can be read in full here.

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives and works in the West Bank wrote today on the TPM blog that: “I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never-ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel, or any society for that matter, could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state-sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—including one person who self-identifies as a ‘leftist’—are speaking of accepting the killing of 100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be”.

In his post, Bahour said there were actually plenty of other options, and added that “there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing!” This post can be read in full here.

Falk: "Israel could have either refused to grant visas or communicated to the UN that I would not be allowed to enter, but neither step was taken"

Richard Falk — who travelled this past week to Israel in order to get to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza on a UN human rights mission — has written his own account of his being barred from entry into Israel and then deported early the next morning. It is published today in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian newspaper here:

“On December 14, I arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel to carry out my UN role as special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories … Meetings had been scheduled on an hourly basis during the six days, starting with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, the following day.

“I knew that there might be problems at the airport. Israel had strongly opposed my appointment a few months earlier and its foreign ministry had issued a statement that it would bar my entry if I came to Israel in my capacity as a UN representative. [But] I would not have made the long journey from California, where I live, had I not been reasonably optimistic about my chances of getting in. Israel was informed that I would lead the mission and given a copy of my itinerary, and issued visas to the two people assisting me: a staff security person and an assistant, both of whom work at the office of the high commissioner of human rights in Geneva.

To avoid an incident at the airport, Israel could have either refused to grant visas or communicated to the UN that I would not be allowed to enter, but neither step was taken

After being denied entry, I was put in a holding room with about 20 others … At this point, I was treated not as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed.

“I was separated from my two UN companions who were allowed to enter Israel and taken to the airport detention facility a mile or so away. I was required to put all my bags and cell phone in a room and taken to a locked tiny room that smelled of urine and filth. It contained five other detainees and was an unwelcome invitation to claustrophobia. I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food and lights that were too bright or darkness controlled from the guard office.

“Of course, my disappointment and harsh confinement were trivial matters, not by themselves worthy of notice, given the sorts of serious hardships that millions around the world daily endure. Their importance is largely symbolic.

I am an individual who had done nothing wrong beyond express strong disapproval of policies of a sovereign state.

“More importantly, the obvious intention was to humble me as a UN representative and thereby send a message of defiance to the United Nations.

“Israel had all along accused me of bias and of making inflammatory charges relating to the occupation of Palestinian territories. I deny that I am biased, but rather insist that I have tried to be truthful in assessing the facts and relevant law.

“It is the character of the occupation that gives rise to sharp criticism of Israel’s approach, especially its harsh blockade of Gaza, resulting in the collective punishment of the 1.5 million inhabitants … The blockade of Gaza serves no legitimate Israeli function. It is supposedly imposed in retaliation for some Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets that have been fired across the border at the Israeli town of Sderot. The wrongfulness of firing such rockets is unquestionable, yet this in no way justifies indiscriminate Israeli retaliation against the entire civilian population of Gaza …

“Although denied entry, my effort will continue to use all available means to document the realities of the Israeli occupation as truthfully as possible”.

• Richard Falk is professor of international law at Princeton University and the UN’s special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories

After Beit Hanoun report, Archbishop Desmond Tutu to receive Fulbright Prize for International Understanding at U.S. State Department

There is a message here.

Just about a month after delivering his final report — from the heart — to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on the Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza that killed 19 Palestinian civilians in November 2006, an announcement has come from the U.S. State Department saying that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is to receive the 2008 Fulbright Prize in a ceremony in Washington on Friday.

The totally unedited announcement says:
“Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Goli Ameri and the Fulbright Association will co-host a ceremony honoring Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu on Friday, November 21, 2008, at 11 a.m. in the Dean Acheson Auditorium of the U.S. Department of State. The 2008 J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding will be awarded to Archbishop Tutu for his work for peace in South Africa and elsewhere. The prize carries a $50,000 award provided by The Coca-Cola Foundation. In addition to Archbishop Tutu, other speakers will include poet Maya Angelou; Coca-Cola Company Chairman of the Board Neville Isdell; Goucher College Professor Kelly Brown Douglas; and Fulbright Association President Suzanne E. Siskel. The J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding was created by the Fulbright Association in 1993 to recognize individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward bringing peoples, cultures, and nations to greater understanding of others. Past Fulbright Prize recipients include Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Václav Havel, Jimmy Carter, and Nelson Mandela.”