10 February 2015
By Emily Gian
During Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the one that routinely has some of the world’s worst human rights offenders on its rotating membership) announced it was to launch an inquiry into Israel’s actions in its 50-day defensive war against Hamas.
The judge appointed to lead the inquiry was Canadian jurist Professor William Schabas, a man who was already known as an outspoken anti-Israel advocate. His appointment was immediately met with controversy.
Schabas had previously suggested that the man that would be his “favourite” to be hauled before the Court of International Justice in The Hague to answer for war crimes was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a comment that hardly underlined his impartiality and which in most civilized judicial systems in the world would lead to his automatic disqualification.
Interestingly, Schabas did try to justify himself on Israeli television by claiming he was merely echoing the Goldstone Report. For those playing along at home, the Goldstone Report did not make a single reference to Netanyahu (except in an unrelated footnote), probably because he was not even in the government in 2008 during Operation Cast Lead when Ehud Olmert was Prime Minister. In one fell swoop, Schabas proved to the world that he not only lacked neutrality but was also ignorant making him eminently suitable to lead a farcical enquiry whose mandate was to find a way to condemn Israel and ignore the instigator of the fighting, Hamas.
During the war Schabas was very vocal in his views that Israel’s actions were disproportionate. Why? Because, in his own words, “proportionality is proportionality“. In other words, his mind was already made up before he took a single step into Gaza or Israel.
Jump forward to the present. The information has been gathered, the report is in its writing-up stage and Schabas has resigned from the panel in a letter to the UNHRC because of Israeli accusations that he had done some legal work for the PLO which he had not disclosed prior to taking the post. In resigning he seemed to think he was taking the noble decision so that the allegations against him would not overshadow the outcomes of the report itself. A compromised report concocted by a panel sympathetic to one side whose outcomes were pre-ordained by a corrupt council and designed to criminalise Israel’s rights to self-defence against an enemy sworn not only to destroy it but to commit genocide against the Jewish people.
Perhaps, the United Nations needs to remind itself of why it was formed in the ashes of the Holocaust and how it is that serious human rights abusers have come to control its agendas?
Schabas’ replacement is American jurist Mary McGowan-Davis (already a panel member) and an appointee from the International Council of Jurists which had previously made a statement to the UNHRC judging Israel guilty of war crimes. McGowan-Davis, also gathered further evidence from Cast Lead which ultimately caused Richard Goldstone to distance himself from his own report. Of course, this makes her the perfect puppet replacement for Schabas. She has, of course, promised a report “that meets the highest standards of independence and impartiality”.
In any event, it has long been clear that the inquiry is tainted.
Schabas’ resignation and his replacement by McGowan is merely a further sign of the farce which the whole thing has become. Schabas and his friends have been trying, through this so-called investigation to criminalise one country’s rights to self-defence. While Hamas is able to commit war crimes with impunity and without being called upon to answer for them, Israel’s responses to defend her citizens under attack gifts her a one-way ticket to the docks of the International Criminal Court. In doing so, a dangerous precedent would be set for the world given the many conflicts raging around it. One wonders whether and when the UNHRC and the ICC will seriously turn their attention to Syria where the death toll from its civil war has passed 200,000.
And on the topic of the ICC, it was interesting that those in the media who reported that Schabas had undertaken work with the PLO failed to mention that the paid work was actually an advice to the Palestinians on how they can take Israel to the ICC and hold Israeli leaders accountable for war crimes. This fact alone outlines the depravity of the situation and the sad state of what passes for international law in this day and age.
So Schabas is out, somewhat just symbolically given that the report is almost complete and most likely it is too late. The damage was already done months ago but at least Schabas has been shamed and forced to resign.