Libya suspended from the UN Human Rights Council

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that “Today the world’s eyes are fixed on Libya. We have seen Colonel Qadhafi’s security forces open fire on peaceful protestors again and again. They have used heavy weapons on unarmed civilians. Mercenaries and thugs have been turned loose to attack demonstrators. There are reports of soldiers executed for refusing to turn their guns on their fellow citizens, of indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture.  Colonel Qadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency. Through their actions, they have lost the legitimacy to govern. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Qadhafi to go – now, without further violence or delay”.

Clinton added: “The international community is speaking with one voice and our message is unmistakable.  These violations of universal rights are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This Council took an important first step toward accountability on Friday by establishing an independent commission of inquiry.  On Saturday in New York, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution imposing an arms embargo on Libya, freezing the assets of key human rights violators and other members of the Qadhafi family, and referring the Libyan case to the International Criminal Court. Tomorrow, the UN General Assembly should vote to accept the recommendation to suspend the Qadhafi government’s participation here in the Human Rights Council. Governments that turn their guns on their own people have no place in this chamber”.

On Tuesday in New York, the UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council.  It is the first time that this has ever happened.

Afterwards, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice tweeted:
“This is another clear warning to #Qadhafi and those who still stand by him: they must stop the killing. He must go, and he must go now”
and
“All 192 member states just agreed to suspend #Libya from Human Rights Council. Unprecedented”.

Worst Palestinian political crisis in years

There is chaos in Ramallah, as Palestinian politicians fumble for explanations of why — and even how — the Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva was authorized to withdraw support for a resolution he had been pushing to have the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva endorse the findings of the Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission that looked into last winter’s Gaza war.

Instead, members of the Islamic Conference and other countries in Africa and Asia tabled a motion — and this is what passed and was adopted instead — calling for the Human Rights Council to discuss the report again in March 2010.

“We just don’t know what happened”, said one official with the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah.

“Nobody seems to know”, he said.

PLO Executive Committee meeting - Maan photo published on Electronic Intifada

On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas ordered — after consulting with the PLO Executive Committee and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — an INVESTIGATION into how. exactly, the decision to withdraw support for resolution endorsing the Goldstone happened.

Then, Abbas travelled to Yemen.

Ma’an News Agency reported that “The secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, [Yasser] Abed Rabbo said in a statement that ‘after deliberating between President Abbas and members of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, President Abbas issued a decree to form a committee to find the reasons behind postponement of the debate on Goldstone’s report at the UN Human Rights Council” the statement added.

The three-member investigative committee is headed by PLO Executive Committee member Hanna Amireh, and includes Azmi Shuaibi, and  Rami Al-Hamdallah.  They are supposed to submit their report to the PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (and not to the public) in two weeks, according to the statement issued in Abed Rabbo’s name.

But, if the Palestinian president doesn’t know how such a momentous decision was made — an astonishing admission in itself —  then isn’t a little more urgency required?

Many Palestinian officials in Ramallah were not answering their phone on Sunday afternoon.  So far, no  official has made any explanation to the public — not even saying that “We don’t know what happened”.

UPDATE: CORRECTION ON TUESDAY 6 OCTOBER – APPARENTLY THE FATAH CENTRAL COMMITTEE DID NOT MEET, ALTHOUGH SOME OF THE MEMBERS HAVE MADE STATEMENTS: One knowledgeable Palestinian source said that the Central Committee had condemned the withdrawal of support for the resolution endorsing the conclusions contained in the Goldstone report. The Agence France Presse (APF) quoted recently-elected Central Committee member Mohammed Dahlan, here, as saying “he was against delaying the vote to endorse the report. ‘Fatah fully supports the Goldstone report. We don’t know the exact reasons for delaying (the vote)’, he told AFP on Saturday”.

Nasser al-Qudwa, former Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in New York, who subsequently served under his uncle, Yasser Arafat, as PA Foreign Minister, is another one of the newly-elected members of the Fatah Central Committee. He said “We issued an official statement on Friday that was clearly supportive of the report and its recommendations, and expressing great regreat at what happened. We also called for the Goldstone report to be upheld in different arenas”. He said on the phone on Sunday that he had told various Palestinian and Arab media that “what happened was wrong, and should be rectified”, and he said that some “follow-up ideas” were being considered.

Among the ideas he mentioned were: calling on the UN Secretary-General to present the Goldstone Report to the UN Security Council directly [we have already predicted, in our previous post, that this will not happen], or possibly calling for an extraordinary session of the Human Rights Council. But for the U.S., who has already complained that too much of the Council’s attention has been focused on Israel already, this will be a very objectionable . And, I wonder which members of the Human Rights Council would be willing to go along with another Palestinian move, just after this fiasco?

The Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva, Ibrahim Kraishi, apparently received instructions in writing — “an official paper from Ramallah”, the knowledgeable Palestinian source said — but it has not yet been made clear who sent it. “These are the worst days ever for the Palestinian Authority,” this source added. “Say anything you like, I can only agree with you … This is very painful”.

The Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, is still there, and has not been recalled, this official said.

As we reported yesterday, here, he is the only Palestinian official whose fingerprints can be found on this move.

A demonstration has been called for Monday at noon in downtown Ramallah.  One big question is how the Palestinian security forces will behave.   In the past, they have been brutally repressive of any anti-regime demonstrations.

One likely fall guy, or scapegoat, appears at the moment to be Riyad Al-Maliki, who is the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister.  Reuters reported that “Abbas’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, said the Authority agreed with postponing until March a vote that could lead to the Security Council referring Israel and Hamas to the International Criminal Court. Israel has denounced the report as biased”.  This report is posted here.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is also taking a share of the blame.

But, a few very well-connected Palestinian officials are pinning the blame squarely on the Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva. And YNet is reporting that “According to another PA official … the fact that Israel’s envoy to the UN in Geneva made the agreement public ‘complicated matters’ for the Authority and made it appear as though it were cooperating with Israel ‘at the expense of those who were killed in Gaza’.” This YNet story is published here .

So, by this reasoning if he had dissembled and lied and been vague, the Palestinian Ambassdor in Geneva would have done a good job?

However, Amira Hass reported in Haaretz on Sunday that “Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Abbas made the decision to delay the vote immediately after meeting with the U.S. Consul General last Thursday, without the knowledge of the PLO leadership or the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and without any consultation … The Palestinian sources said they believed that the consul general had passed on an unequivocal request from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure that the document remain on the table at the Human Rights Council … Abbas on Saturday made his first direct comments about media speculation on the issue, saying that his initial position had been misrepresented and that this was not a case of him withdrawing his support for the Goldstone report”. Amira Hass also reported that this situation has “shocked the Palestinian public”. Her article can be read in full here.

AFP reinforced this line, reporting that a senior member of the PLO said, under condition of anonymity that “Abu Mazen (Abbas) was himself responsible for this decision … He was under pressure from many states, especially the United States and Britain”.

UPDATE: Abbas himself said in an interview shown on Monday on Al-Arabiyya TV and Al-Jazeera TV that it wasn’t such a big deal, that people should be patient, and that March 2010 is just around the corner.

Palestinian Economy Minister Basem Khoury resigned on Saturday in protest of the decision to withdraw support from the Goldstone report. Khoury had recently taken heavy flak for meeting Israeli Minister for “Regional” Cooperation, and had promised not to do it again in the current circumstances. Now, he has resigned.

Planning Minister Ali Jarbawi said “someone made a mistake” and that he would seek an explanation at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, according to the Associated Press (AP). The AP report added that “Abbas’ critics are unlikely to go after Abbas personally and are more likely to seek the dismissal of advisers seen as encouraging him to take the decision. Abbas aides have defended the decision, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the Goldstone report”. This AP report is posted here. This AP report also cast doubt on the reported motives for the resignation of the economy minister: “It was unclear whether the resignation was to protest Abbas’ decision, and Khoury declined comment”.

Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs Majida Al-Masri said Saturday that the official Palestinian stance on the UN-backed Goldstone report harmed Palestinian national interests and embarrassed supporters of the Palestinian people, according to a report by Ma’an News Agency which added that “The first member of the caretaker government to speak out against the Palestine Liberation Organization move, Al-Masri … called the stance of the Palestinian ambassador to the UN ‘contradictory to Palestinian national consensus’, and a move that ‘angered friends and allies of the Palestinian people’.  Al-Masr is, a member of the politburo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).  Ma’an noted that ” DFLP leaders also accused the PLO, of which Hamas is not a member, of making a decision that ‘deepened Palestinian rivalry and posed questions about the motives for such a stance and the decision makers who gave directives’.”   Ma’an’s report can be read in full here.

In another report, Ma’an noted that “A spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) slammed the role of the Palestinian Authority … and described the PA decision as ‘irresponsible’ and one that deeply harms the Palestinian struggle … In his statement, the PFLP spokesperson said the PA request to delay the Goldstone report was putting to waste what could have been a major tool in the Palestinian struggle, and in fact encourages Israel and Israeli forces to continue to practice oppression against the Palestinian people. ‘There are no justifications for these actions’, a statement said.”   This Ma’an report added that “When probed for a rationale PA sources said they wanted ‘unanimity’ in the Human Rights Council on the report, and noted discussion on the matter would have a negative influence on the peace negotiations.   This Ma’an report is posted here.

The only explanation that has given for the decision to withdraw support from the vote is “American pressure”.

The U.S, Administration seems not to have correctly calculated the Palestinian public reaction, and its revulsion against this move. The Palestinian Authority is in danger of losing legitimacy.

Families in Gaza who lost relatives, and who also lost their homes and sources of livelihood were devastated by the decision. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh joined them at a press conference in Gaza City to denounce what had happened. Haniyeh reportedly called the decision to withdraw Palestinian support for the Goldstone report “reckless and irresponsible”.

Palestinian Academic Salman Salman said at the end of a three-day conference on “the fading prospects for a state” at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem, on Saturday that “It was stunning to see what happened yesterday on TV, the withdrawal of the resolution … It never happened before. Why? Because it might make Israel angry? If so, what kind of peace do we think we will have?”

One respected Palestinian journalist said on the phone on Sunday that he was angry — and that everybody he knows is angry. “I think it’s a catastrophe”, he added.

Another Palestinian journalist who works with the Palestinian Media Center said angrily on the phone that “the PA leadership knows very well what is behind the decision”. Although Palestinian Ambassadors are supposed to be appointed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — the body that concluded the Oslo peace agreements with Israel. and that was recognized by Israel. As a result of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as an interim authority in the occupied Palestinian territory. According to the Oslo Accords it is not supposed to conduct foreign policy. But, this journalist noted, it is now a “mixture”, and the PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki is appointing ambassadors with the full knowledge of Israel, he noted, without any apparent problem,

Last week, as we reported here Haaretz reported that the Israeli Defense Minister had made it clear that Israel would not agree to release telecommunications frequencies to the Palestinian Authority unless the Palestinians dropped attempts to get the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate last winter’s 22-day IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. If Israel does not release the frequencies by October 15, the Wataniya mobile phone company set up between Palestinian and Kuwaiti, then Qatari, investors, will hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for substantial financial penalties due to the delay.

On October 1, Jerusalem-based Ben Lynfield had an excellent report in The Independent saying that “Israel is threatening to kill off a crucial West Bank economic project unless the Palestinian Authority withdraws a request to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Israeli crimes during last winter’s Gaza war. Shalom Kital, an aide to defence minister Ehud Barak, said today that Israel will not release a share of the radio spectrum that has long been sought by the Palestinian Authority to enable the launch of a second mobile telecommunications company unless the PA drops its efforts to put Israeli soldiers and officers in the dock over the Israeli operation. ‘It’s a condition. We are saying to the Palestinians that “if you want a normal life and are trying to embark on a new way, you must stop your incitement”, Mr. Kital said. “”We are helping the Palestinian economy but one thing we ask them is to stop with these embarrassing charges”. As long as the Wataniya Mobile company is unable to begin its operations, communications costs are likely to remain inordinately high for Palestinian businesses and individuals. But thwarting the company benefits four unauthorized Israeli operators who make sizeable profits in the Palestinian market using infrastructure they have set up in the illegal Israeli settlements across the West Bank … The Israeli stance on the frequencies marks a flouting of the efforts of the international community’s Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, who last month urged that the’is very aware’ there will be no release unless the Palestinians drop their request to the ICC”. Ben Lynfield’s report in The Independent can be read in full here.

The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah reported on 2 October, citing in part Ben Lynfield’s story in The Independent, that “Although the PA acted under US pressure, there are strong indications that the commercial interests of Palestinian and Gulf businessmen closely linked to Abbas also played a part”.  The Electronic Intifada story is here.

However, it is not likely that even the financial penalties that MAY be chalked up by delays in the Wataniya deal are enough to have justified the very substantial political costs that the Palestinian Authority may pay after having withdrawn its support for a UN Human Rights council resolution endorsing the Goldstone report.

There may be quid pro quo that were offered that have not yet publicly been revealed.

But so far, the only change is that Israeli sources are reporting that they expect negotiations with the Palestinians to resume this week during, or right after, a forthcoming visit by U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell. But, it was not the Israelis who broke off the talks, but the Palestinians, and during the very IDF military operation against Gaza that the Goldstone report is all about. This would, then, be yet another Palestinian concession…

Meanwhile, the political crisis that is developing now is threatening the very legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership. The U.S. and any others involved in putting this pressure on the Palestinians may have badly miscalculated.

U.S. wants change in Durban anti-racism document

The U.S. has announced that it will not participate in further preparations for a follow-up conference against racism — UNLESS there are changes in the document being prepared for the conference.

You can bet that there will now be more feverish activity around the world to try to change the document in a way that the U.S. will like. If that happens, it might even be possible that Israel would eventually participate …
Continue reading “U.S. wants change in Durban anti-racism document”

U.S. wants Human Rights Council to take up Zimbabwe's crackdown on opposition

U.S. Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor said in today’s Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialog with Louise Arbour (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) that “My government is also concerned by recent events in Zimbabwe, where democratic opponents of the Mugabe regime gathered peacefully for a prayer meeting were brutally attacked by government security forces this past weekend. At least one person was killed, others — including children — were wounded and over 100 were arrested. Among others, Morgan Tsvangirai, a leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, was severely beaten after being detained. We welcome your statement regarding the situation in Zimbabwe. While we welcome today’s release from detention of Mr. Tsvangirai and other detainees, we remain concerned by reports of continued harassment and arrest of demonstrators. We would welcome any information your office can provide on developments in Zimbabwe. The United States Government believes the Council should consider urgent situations such as this.”

In Washington, the Deputy Spokesman of the U.S. State Department, Tom Casey, had this interaction with a journalist in his daily briefing:
QUESTION: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe said today that the opposition would pay a heavy price for what he called their campaign to oust him from power. And Tsvangirai is, of course, in intensive care with a cracked skull. I just wondered diplomatically what are you doing at the moment to put pressure on the Zimbabwean Government and how are you handling this?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, unfortunately, I think those kinds of
comments are just in keeping with the continued efforts at intimidation and repression of the opposition that have unfortunately characterized President Mugabe’s increasingly autocratic leadership in the country. In terms of actions, certainly as you’ve seen, we’ve spoken out on this issue forcefully including statements by the Secretary which you know. Our Ambassador in Zimbabwe, Chris Dell, has been very active on this issue. He was in the courtroom yesterday when Mr. Tsvangirai and some of the others appeared. He intends to meet with Mr. Tsvangirai as soon as he is physically able to receive visitors. I would also note that the opposition intends to participate in the funeral for the individual who was killed as a result of the police action breaking up this prayer breakfast last weekend. That is scheduled to take place on Saturday and Mr. Tsvangirai said if he’s physically able, he intends to participate in that. And we all on the Government of Zimbabwe to refrain from any actions against that funeral and events surrounding it and to allow that to move forward peacefully and without any further incidents of violence or intimidation. In terms of other actions on our part, we are calling on the Human Rights Council in Geneva to take up this issue. Again, I think you’ve heard us express concerns about the Council and frankly, it hasn’t done a credible job in its past year of work. It’s focused almost exclusively on issues related to Israel and has not turned its attention to other vital issues before it. And frankly with the Council meeting right now in Geneva in session, it would be
hard to understand how they wouldn’t want to turn their attention to a serious case of human rights abuse and violations, as is occurring in Zimbabwe. In addition to that, tomorrow, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Barry Lowenkron will be in Addis Ababa for consultations with the African Union. He intends to focus on this as well as a number of other issues to see what we can do with our African Union partners to push the Zimbabwean Government to allow for peaceful political participation from its citizens and from the opposition. We’re also going to be consulting with a number of other likeminded countries, including some of our European allies who we’ve been working with actively on the ground in Zimbabwe as well to see what other kinds of things we might be able to do working with them. As you know, we do have a number of targeted sanctions in place against some of those who are responsible for depriving the Zimbabwean people of their democratic rights and certainly we’ll look at whether there are any other additional measures that might be necessary as well in response to some of these latest activities…”

Louise Arbour says a number of interesting things – giving glimpses into complex realities

At what was just a routinely-scheduled press conference with journalists on Wednesday, while she was visiting UNHQ/NY, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour of Canada (former judge, and former chief prosecutor at the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) said a number of interesting things — all in response to questions from journalists.

Here are excerpts, according to the summary given in a UN Press release:

“Responding to questions about prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere without access to an independent judicial review of their cases, she said that lack of access had been her concern upon the creation of the ‘Guantanamo environment’ — described by some as a ‘legal black hole’. ‘I hope we will see the American judicial system rise to its long-standing reputation as a guardian of fundamental human rights and civil liberties and provide the protection to all that are under the authority, control, and, therefore, in my view, jurisdiction, of the United States’.

Regarding this week’s International Court of Justice ruling that Serbia had not been responsible for the genocide of Bosnians in Srebrenica, she said that, based on the broad outlines of that very sophisticated opinion, the decision that would resonate most would be the one dealing with the obligation to prevent genocide. That had now been overshadowed, however, by disappointment that Serbia had been found not to have been an actual perpetrator of the crime of genocide. However, one should not underestimate the resonance that the further opinion would have regarding the obligation of States, not only those complicit or actively implicit in acts of genocide, but also those with a responsibility to prevent it. She pointed out that the International Court of Justice had made extensive use of the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which showed the quality of the jurisprudence emerging from the International Criminal Tribunals. It was difficult to speculate about what the outcome would have been had the late Slobodan Milosevic been found directly and personally responsible for genocide, particularly in relation to Srebrenica, she said. However, there had been no resolution at his trial and the amount of evidence accumulated and made available to the International Court of Justice had obviously been of assistance.

[S]he said in reference to the court brief she had recently filed in Iraq against the death penalty that human rights advocacy in court was particularly effective. ‘In fact, it is the form of choice for the advancement of human rights; courts are the primary guardians, not only of human rights standards, but of the application, the implementation of rights’, she stressed. The document filed in the Iraq high tribunal was actually an application for a leave to submit the brief, she said. To the extent there would be opportunities elsewhere to advance important human rights issues — whether in international courts, regional courts, or in a national tribunal — within the limits of her capacity, that was certainly something to be considered. ‘If the courts are willing to listen to us, as I said, I think it’s a form that we should not shy away from’.

Asked to comment on the fact that the Human Rights Council had issued eight resolutions on Israel and only one setting up the mission to the Sudan, she said that, while the Council was an intergovernmental body, it was also a quintessential political body. Whatever its mandate, it was a body of 47 Member States, which reacted — or failed to react — to situations rather than to abstract human rights principles. That was why it was so important for the United Nations system to have not just the Human Rights Council, but also special procedures, independent experts, the treaty body system and the Office of the High Commissioner.”

The UN story about Louise Arbour’s remarks is here.

Dueling draft resolutions on Darfur

Urged on by the SG (who thought, as the U.S. and Israel do, that Israel was getting too much attention and criticism from the new UN Human Rights Council in Geneva because of its mistreatment of Palestinians), the Council obediently convened a fourth Special Session, on the human rights situation in Darfur.

Kofi Annan sent a video-taped message to today’s meeting (there are six hours’ time difference, after all, and he can’t be expected to wake up in the middle of the night in New York to address a meeting in Geneva), in which he observed that for more than three years now, the people of Darfur had “endured a nightmare”, and that it was nearly two years since an International Commission of Inquiry had submitted its report with shocking findings.

So, apparently it seems a good idea to send another Commission of Inquiry.  Annan wrote: “I urge you to lose no time in sending a team of independent and universally respected experts to investigate the latest escalation of abuses … It is urgent that we take action to prevent further violations, including by bringing to account those responsible for the numerous crimes that have already been committed. That is the very least you can do to show the people of Darfur that their cries for help are being heard”.

At a regular bi-weekly briefing for journalists at the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG), Jose Luis Diaz of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) drew attention to the High Commissioner’s statement to the Special Session this morning in which she had said that “victims and other vulnerable civilians are entitled to expect from you [the Human Rights Council] a credible response”.

Mr. Diaz told journalists that two [competing] draft resolutions had been submitted to the Council — the first, submitted by Finland, who had convened the Special Session, called for sending an urgent assessment mission to Darfur headed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan. The mission would be requested to report to the Council at its next session early next year.  Mr. Diaz explained that the second draft resolution, submitted by the African Group, also called for the Council to dispatch a mission to assess the human rights situation in Darfur, but this mission would be headed by the President of the Council and would include the members of the Bureau and the regional group coordinators members of the Council. That mission would also report back to the Council at its next session.

The Special Session was to continue into Wednesday.

Meanwhile, at UNHQ/NY, the UN Spokesman told journalists that “In the context of the follow up of the implementation of the UN light support package to the African Union mission in Darfur (AMIS), the Tripartite Mechanism composed of representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan will hold its first meeting tomorrow.  The Tripartite Mechanism aims at ensuring a more transparent, systematic, and efficient provision of UN support to AMIS. During tomorrow’s meeting, UNMIS will present a list of equipment and personnel ready to be deployed in support of AMIS.  Insecurity continues to prevail in many parts in Darfur.  For instance in West Darfur, a vehicle donated by a UN agency to the local ministry of health to assist in mobile vaccination and immunization of infants and children was hijacked alongside with the driver outside of a camp housing displaced persons. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency reports that the voluntary return of Sudanese refugees to south Sudan is set to gather new momentum this week with the scheduled re-launch of return convoys from Ethiopia starting tomorrow (Wednesday), and from Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday.

That’s the way the UN talks.

Israel criticized again in UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

The Geneva based NGO UN Watch, which monitors UN activities that touch Israel, notes that, at the end of its third regular session, today, “the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel twice, bringing its total number of resolutions against the Jewish state, in its [meaning the Human Rights Council – because the State of Israel has existed since 15 May 1948] six months of existence, to eight.  Israel is the only country in the world that the Council has condemned for human rights violations since it was inaugurated in June.  Today’s censures were the only Council resolutions from this session that addressed a specific country.  The two texts deal with ‘follow up’ to two earlier Council resolutions pronouncing Israel guilty of human rights violations in Gaza and in Lebanon without mentioning the actions or violations of Hamas or Hezbollah, which were widely criticized by Western states and human rights organizations as one-sided.  Both of today’s resolutions mandate additional reporting on and scrutiny of Israel’s conduct when the Council meets again in March.”  www.unwatch.org

A press release issued by UN Watch quotes executive director Hillel Neuer as saying ” The Council, regrettably, continues to defy the repeated pleas of Secretary-General Annan to move past its obsession with one-sided resolutions against Israel … [T]he Council is reserving virtually all of its criticism for Israel, and today’s resolutions guarantee that this imbalance will continue at its next session.”

The UN Watch press release adds that “The only other country situation on which the Council has passed a resolution in its first six months is that of Darfur, Sudan.  That resolution, however, neither accuses Sudan of committing violations nor holds it responsible for halting the ongoing atrocities in Darfur”.

The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Darfur next Tuesday, 12 December.

But, until now, UN Watch notes, “The Council’s three previous special sessions, held in July, August, and November, all focused on Israel”.

UN Watch was founded in 1993, by a former U.S. Ambassador (Morris B. Abram).

The present U.S. Ambassador in Geneva, Warren W. Tichenor, made his own statement during today’s session of the UN Human Rights Council, saying: “By condemning only Israel and discouraging an examination of the actions of Hizballah, the Council is rewarding an armed non-state actor, one that is currently trying to bring down the democratically elected Lebanese government, for engaging in repeated armed attacks against a member state of the United Nations.  Hizballah has attacked civilians and has conducted its operations in Lebanon in a manner that puts civilians in harm’s way.  Hizballah deliberately adopted these tactics to camouflage its operations — to insulate its forces from attack, in such a way that even if Israel attacks legitimate targets, Hizballah will score public relations points from the spectacle of Lebanese civilian casualties and death.  The United States remains a strong supporter of Lebanon’s democratically elected government, and the Lebanese people, as we reiterate our dedication to help Lebanon rebuild as they deserve a prosperous and secure country in which they are free to make decisions without fear of violence or intimidation.”

Ambassador Tichenor also said, in his statement to the UN’s Human Rights Council: “The human suffering on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border earlier this year was a tragedy and remains a serious concern of my government.  Faced with the tragic results of the conflict in Lebanon precipitated by the egregious cross-border attacks by Hizballah, the Council reacted in August with a one-sided and unfair resolution aimed only at Israel. The Council compounded its actions by creating a Commission of Inquiry to investigate only Israel’s use of force. As we heard at this session, the Commission report was one-sided and flawed. When evaluating issues such as targeting, use of weapons, and proportionality — which are in any event matters outside the mandate of the Council — one needs to look fully at all sides to the armed conflict.  Nevertheless, in its long list of recommendations, the Commission managed to make a few that would apply to Hizballah.”

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its fourth session in Geneva next year, over a four-week  period, from 12 March to 5 April 2007.

(The Human Rights Council is mandated to hold at least three separate sessions per year, totalling at least ten weeks.)

Before closing this last regular session of 2006, the Human Rights Council’s President, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Peru, said, according to a UN Press release, that “The Council had been working hard by combining substantive issues with a focus on institution-building. The Council had also dealt with highly topical and substantive issues. Although there were still matters to be worked out, many important things had successfully been accomplished. The Council had been requested by the resolution of the General Assembly to strengthen the mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights by taking the positive and effective instruments of the former Commission on Human Rights… [He also said] It was also important to underscore the achievements made in a positive manner, without excluding any one from participating in the process. The Council was starting a new phase of institution-building and should continue to deal with other issues as well.”

Expert Commission Reports to UN Human Rights Council on Israeli Attack on Lebanon

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has received and is discussing a report on last summer’s Israeli attack upon Lebanon from a Commission of independent experts, who say that: “Where the attacks against civilians or their property were direct and deliberate, where abductions, transfers and detentions in Israel of civilians occurred, it can be consider that there is a violation of the right to life, the right to property, the interdiction of inhuman, humiliating and degrading treatment. Moreover, these deliberate strikes against civilians amount in fact to summary and extra-judicial executions of persons (suspected or assimilated to terrorists-enemies). It not only violated the fundamental rights of these persons (right to life, right to personal security, fair trial, non- discrimination) but also constitutes a very negative State practice, extremely disturbing for contemporary legal culture”.

The Commission reported that “generally, respect for the principle of humanity and humanitarian considerations was absent during the conflict”. And it said it was “convinced that damage inflicted on some infrastructure was done for the sake of destruction”.

The Commission also said it was convinced that the Israeli bombings (on July 13 and July 15) of certain specific fuel storage tanks at the Jiyyeh electrical power plant, located near the seashore, was “premeditated”. The Commission’s report stated that “the strike was directly aimed at those tanks that had been filled in the days preceding the attacks. No missile was directed at empty tanks, nor at the main generator and machinery, which are just a few meters away from the storage tanks. The Commission called the oil spill “an ecological disaster for the maritime environment on the Lebanese coast and beyond”, with devastating and long-lasting effect.

While the Commission found that “there was evidence of Hezbollah using UNIFIL and Observer Group Lebanon posts as deliberate shields for the firing of their rockets”, it nevertheless “found no justification for the 30 direct attacks by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on United Nations positions, including those which resulted in deaths and injury to protected United Nations personnel”. It said it did not see how Israel could possibly justify these direct attacks.

Four unarmed United Nations observers were killed by IDF fire at the Khiyam base. A UNIFIL staff member and his wife were also killed in an Israeli air strike on their apartment building in Tyre.

The Commission also stated that “It is significant that, towards the end of the conflict, after the ceasefire had been announced, there was a dramatic increase in IDF direct attacks on UNIFIL positions”.

The Commission reported that, “according to Government estimates, nearly one quarter of the population was displaced between 12 July and 14 August, with approximately 735,000 seeking shelter within Lebanon and 230,000 abroad. Much of the displacement in Lebanon was the result, either direct or indirect, of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian property and infrastructure, as well as the climate of fear and panic among the civilian population caused by the warnings, threats and attacks by IDF”.

The Commission reported that it had come to the conclusion that IDF did not give effective warning as required under international humanitarian law.

And the Commission noted that Lebanese authorities have concluded that the conflict resulted in 1,191 deaths and 4,409 injured.

One third of the casualties and deaths were children.

Projections made by the UN’s World Health Organization show that a large percentage of the population suffer from moderate or severe mental psychological stress, and this obviously includes children.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Commission found that active hostilities only took place between Israel and Hezbollah fighters, and that no indication that the Lebanese Armed Forces actively participated in the hostilities that ensued.

The Commission noted that in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a legally recognized political party, whose members are both nationals and a constituent part of its population, and which has duly elected representatives in the Parliament and is part of the Government; and it therefore integrates and participates in the constitutional organs of the State.

The Commission determined that “while Hezbollah’s illegal action under international law of 12 July 2006 provoked an immediate violent reaction by Israel, it is clear that, albeit the legal justification for the use of armed force (self-defence), Israel’s military actions very quickly escalated from a riposte to a border incident into a general attack against the entire Lebanese territory. Israel’s response was considered by the Security Council in its resolution 1701(2006) as [an] ‘offensive military operation’. These actions have the characteristics of an armed aggression, as defined by General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX)”.

And, the Commission reported, “the conduct of Israel demonstrates an overall lack of respect for the cardinal principles regulating the conduct of armed conflict, most notably distinction, proportionality and precaution”.

International Responsibility

In certain cases, such as the deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian properties, attacks against Red Cross ambulances and other protected objects, and the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions, the violations committed by IDF could qualify as serious violations of the laws and customs of war and war crimes.

Israel infringed its international law, international humanitarian law and human rights obligations. As a consequence, the question of its international responsibility arises. It is worth recalling that the obligation of a State responsible for an internationally wrongful act to put an end to that act is well established in general international law, and the existence of such a duty has been reiterated by the International Court of Justice.

The Government of Israel was required to respect and ensure respect at all times for international humanitarian law and human rights by its armed forces. These violations were not only committed by members of IDF but were part of a plan or policy.

The declarations of high military commanders that ‘we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years’, and that ‘once inside Lebanon everything is legitimate’, bears this out.

The conduct of military operations is regulated by a universally recognized body of legal prescriptions. It is also well settled that serious violations of international humanitarian law entail individual criminal responsibility. In this regard, first, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I constitute war crimes and their violations entail individual responsibility. Second, customary international law also provides for individual criminal responsibility for such breaches as well as for violations of the laws and customs of war and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Third, it must also be underlined that violations of a number of core human rights equally entail under the relevant international human rights instruments and customary international law individual responsibility.

The Commission’s report contains many indications of conduct that constitute serious international humanitarian law and human rights violations for which individual responsibility can be imputed. These entail an obligation on the part of Israel to put to an end to serious breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights committed and to prosecute those responsible. In this regard, the international community has its part of responsibility.

It is important that continued attention be given and efforts be undertaken by the Human Rights Council to ensure justice for the victims and accountability for international humanitarian law and human rights violations. If not, the culture of impunity will not be brought to an end.

The Commission recommended that the UN’s Human Rights Council should establish a follow-up procedure for the rebuilding of Lebanon and above all for ensuring that there will be reparations for victims among the Lebanese civilian population.

And the Commission recommended that the Human Rights Council should take an initiative to promote urgent action to include cluster munitions to the list of weapons banned under international law. It said that “there is ample evidence pointing to a significant increase in the intensity of the overall bombardment including cluster munitions in the last 72 hours of the conflict, including the period after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). OCHA [the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] affirms that 90 per cent of all cluster bombs and their sub-munitions were fired by IDF into south Lebanon during these last 72 hours of the conflict. For example, cluster bombardments were particularly heavy in and around the Tibnin hospital grounds, especially on 13 August when 2,000 civilians were seeking shelter there”.

The Commission said that Human Rights Council should also ask competent bodies to take a look at the legality of some weapons particularly indiscriminate to the civilian population, including weapons which use depleted uranium.

It also urged the Human Rights Council to strongly call upon Israel to immediately hand over to UNIFIL and the Government of Lebanon full and detailed information on the use, and of all coordinates of cluster munitions launched in Lebanon.

The three members of the Commission, who were appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, wera Joao Clemente Baena Soares (Brazil), Mohamed Chande Othman (United Republic of Tanzania) and Stelios Perrakis (Greece); they were chosen on the basis of their expertise in international humanitarian law and human rights law. They visited Lebanon twice, from 23 September through 7 October, and again from 17 through 21 October.

WEAPONRY

During the Commission’s investigations allegations were made concerning the use by the IDF of a range of weapons or, more accurately, ammunition which might be considered illegal.

Such allegations were made in relation to the use of depleted uranium, white phosphorous and fuel air explosives.

Some witnesses also brought to the Commission’s attention injuries they described as abnormal, e.g. completely charred but intact corpses, or human bodies that apparently simply vaporized.

Cluster Bombs

The extent of the use cluster munitions by IDF goes beyond that required to interdict their opponents and points more towards a punitive use of and points more towards a punitive use of [the] weapon. The particular military use of these munitions lies in the wide area the munitions can cover. It provides the military with a very effective weapon against targets such as troops in the open or in defensive positions, artillery batteries, and concentrations of vehicles or tanks. However, the inherent area coverage of cluster munitions calls for clear separation between military targets and civilians or their property otherwise the latter will suffer the indiscriminate consequences of their use. Account must also be taken of the known failure rates of such ammunition which can result in excessive and disproportionate harm to civilians after the conflict. Although there are ongoing efforts to ban cluster munitions, for example under the umbrella of the Conventional Weapons Convention, unfortunately there is no prohibition under international humanitarian law on their use at present. The key issue in relation to the law and their use by the military rests on the known wide dispersal pattern of the cluster munitions on the ground and hence the fact that they cannot be targeted precisely. As a result it is often difficult, if not impossible, for the military to discriminate between military and civilian objects when the weapons are used in or near populated areas. The pertinent issue therefore is how the munitions are used. Considering the indiscriminate manner in which cluster munitions were used, in the absence of any reasonable explanation from IDF, the Commission finds that their use was excessive and not justified by any reason of military necessity. When all is considered, the Commission finds that these weapons were used deliberately to turn large areas of fertile agricultural land into ‘no go’ areas for the civilian population. Furthermore, in view of the foreseeable high dud rate, their use amounted to a de facto scattering of anti-personnel mines across wide tracts of Lebanese land. The use of cluster munitions by IDF was of no military advantage and was in contradiction to the principles of distinction and proportionality. These were part of a widespread and systematic targeting of civilians and their property, thus causing great suffering, injury and death during and after the conflict.

The extent of the use of the munitions particularly during the last 72 hours of the conflict, points toward a plan by IDF.

Depleted Uranium

The IDF has within its arsenal of weapons munitions that can be equipped with depleted uranium warheads. It is therefore possible that depleted uranium (DU) munitions were used by the IDF during the conflict.

However, the preliminary findings of the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research, which carried out a detailed field survey of several bomb sites, concluded that there was no indication of depleted uranium having been used in the conflict, with the caveat that some additional field work was still necessary to draw a final conclusion.

White phosporous

White phosphorous is designed for use by artillery, mortars or tanks to put down an instant smoke screen to cover movement in, for example, an attack or flanking manoeuvre.

The phosphorous ignites on contact with air and gives off a thick smoke. If the chemical touches skin it will continue to burn until it reaches the bone unless deprived of oxygen.

It is not designed as an incendiary weapon per se, for example in the same way as a flame thrower or the petroleum jelly substance used in napalm.

The Commission received a number of reports concerning the use of this type of ammunition.

In addition, the Commission was told about and witnessed a number of sites where the possible use of white phosphorous had occurred, among others, at Marwaheen on 16 July during the gathering of the civilians in the village prior to their evacuation under UNIFIL supervision. This was witnessed by civilians concerned and interviewed by the Commission. It was also confirmed by UNIFIL officers on the scene that 12 white phosphorous rounds were fired directly at the civilians.

The Commission did not find evidence concerning the use of incendiary weapons, such as flame throwers or napalm.

Dense inert metal explosives (DIME)

Various media have reported on the possible use by IDF of Dense inert metal explosives (DIME), a new weapon, in Lebanon.

[The weapon can be launched from drones and is said to produce microscopic particles which cannot be seen by x-ray machines. It is reputed to comprise a carbon-fiber casing filled with tungsten powder and explosives. In the explosion, tungsten particles are spread at very high temperature causing death.]

It was reported that Israeli Air Force Major General Yitzhak Ben-Israel had described the weapon as being designed “to allow those targeted to be hit without causing damage to bystanders or other persons”.

It was brought to the Commission’s attention by a number of expert medical witnesses that some of the casualties had suffered from inexplicable burn injuries not witnessed before. These witnesses had extensive experience of war wounds from previous conflicts; their testimony is therefore of some relevance.

IDF have strongly denied the use of such weapons.

If they were effectively used, the Commission finds that they would be illegal under international humanitarian law. Protocol I of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (hereafter ‘the Conventional Weapons Convention’), to which Israel is a signatory, prohibits the use of any weapon the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which cannot be detected by X-rays.

The Commission was unable in the time available to thoroughly investigate the claims. However, in drawing attention to this weapon and in particular to the expert witnesses’ testimonies, it finds that the possible use of such weapons in Lebanon should be the subject of further investigation.

Fuel-air explosives

There were some allegations from witnesses that IDF used fuel-air explosives during the conflict. This was particularly the case in relation to the destruction of property in South Beirut.

[These are weapons that disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion. The overpressure so produced flattens all objects within close proximity of the centre of the explosion.]

The weapon is designed for targets such as minefields, armour, and aircraft parked in the open and vehicles. Its vacuum effect is particularly useful against hardened bunkers.

The Commission found no evidence of its use for such purposes.

There were some reports that Israel employed fuel-air explosives to clear areas suspected to be planted with improvised explosive device (IED) and mines placed by Hezbollah in South Lebanon.

The fuel-air countermine called ‘carpet’ is employed by the Israeli corps of engineers. The carpet uses small rockets fired from a stand-off range, deploying highly explosive aerosol over the suspected area. The explosion of this mixture develops high pressure impulse which effectively kills fuses or sets off explosive devices in the affected area.

Booby Traps

The Commission found no evidence of booby traps having been left in place by IDF .

None of the weapons known to have been used by IDF are illegal per se under international humanitarian law. However, the way in which the weapons were used in some cases transgresses the law.

The Commission’s findings, detailed earlier in this report in relation to the direct targeting of civilian objects, infrastructure and protected property is at odds with the apparent interpretation of IDF and the application of the principle of distinction. The vast destruction of civilian objects throughout the Lebanon, but especially in the South where some villages were virtually completely destroyed indicates that weapons systems were not used in a professional manner despite assurances from IDF that legal advice was being taken in the planning process.

TIMELINE

+ On 12 July 2006, Hezbollah fighters fired rockets at Israeli military positions and border villages while another Hezbollah unit crossed the Blue Line, killed eight Israeli soldiers and captured two.

+ From 13 July 2006, the IDF attacked Lebanon by air, sea and land, including a number of incursions on Lebanese territory by Israeli ground forces.

+ The Government of Lebanon decided on 27 July 2006 that it would extend its authority over its territory in an effort to ensure that there would not be any weapons or authority other than that of the Lebanese State.

+ Over the course of the several weeks, Lebanon frequently pleaded for the Security Council to call for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

+ On 11 August 2006, the Security Council at UNHQ/NY adopted resolution 1701 (2006) calling inter alia for a ‘full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations, and emphasizing the need to address urgently the causes that have given rise to the current crisis, including by the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers’.

+ On the same day, the UN Human Rights Council, meeting in Geneva, called for the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry.

+ Both parties to the conflict agreed on a ceasefire, which took effect on 14 August 2006 at 0800 hours.

+ The Lebanese Army began deploying in southern Lebanon on 17 August 2006. The aerial blockade was lifted on 6 September and the maritime blockade was lifted on 7 September 2006.

+ On 1 October, the Israeli army reported that it had completed its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, information that was confirmed by UNIFIL.

The situation related to Shabaa Farms remained the same.”