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The puzzling deferral of the UNHRC resolution

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The puzzling deferral of the UNHRC decision
Oct. 11, 2009
Maurice Ostroff

Despite the controversy it has aroused, the decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to defer a recommendation on the Goldstone Report to the next session was rational and even extremely wise. The postponement was decided in response to an official request by Pakistan representative Zamir Akram, for the eminently sensible purpose of allowing more time for members to consider the contents of the fact-finding probe.

On the face of it, nothing could be more reasonable than allowing time to consider the 575-page report, rather than blindly supporting it on purely emotional grounds without any effort at understanding the issues and their very serious implications not only for the parties investigated by the UN mission, but for many other countries as well. If applied without any double standards, most of the recommendations in the report would seriously hamper operations by all states engaged in anti-terror and anti-guerilla operations, including NATO, the US and Britain.

BUT THERE remain many puzzling aspects to this deferral decision that have not been addressed by the mainstream media. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is almost universally blamed, even though the PA is not a member of the UNHRC and attended the session only as an observer. The request for deferral was actually made by Zamir Akram on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), comprising 57 states; the African group, comprising 53 states; and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM ), comprising 118 developing countries.

Consequently, blaming only Abbas implies that he personally holds the awesome power of dictating to all these countries how to vote, even against the wishes of his fellow Palestinian politicians. For example, until the last moment, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters that the OIC was endeavoring to have the UNHRC adopt the report, and he denied rumors that the decision was to be withdrawn.

"There has been no change in our position," he said then.

The furious condemnation directed at Abbas is bizarre while all the countries that actually effected the deferral are completely absolved. More worrisome is the complete negation of democratic procedures insofar as votes in the UNHRC continue to be determined only by political allegiances, with no debate about the merits of any particular resolution.

There is much speculation about why the PA made this unpopular decision. Some suggest that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton persuaded Abbas that ratification of the report would undermine American efforts to restart the stalled peace process. Others suggest that the Obama administration threatened to freeze financial aid to the PA government.

Implying conspiracy theories, Al-Ahram hinted at bribery, suggesting that Israel had threatened the PA with a refusal to license the new Palestinian mobile phone company, Wataniya, which is partially owned by one of Abbas's sons.

The Arab Monitor (October 2) was more blunt. Under the headline "Palestinian Authority sells human rights issue for Wataniya company's interests," it reported that "in the run-up to the current UN Human Rights Council meeting, Israel squarely blackmailed the PA, threatening to withhold frequencies for Wataniya altogether and indefinitely, unless the Palestinian delegation retract[ed] its endorsement of the Goldstone Report."

But in Al-Ahram's view, the most likely reason for the PA decision may have had to do with an Israeli threat to release records of conversations between Israeli and PA officials, implicating the latter pleading with the former to pursue the war on Gaza to the end and crush Hamas.

Whatever the real reasons for the deferral, the entire episode highlights serious shortcomings in the UNHRC that require urgent attention.

It is not Israel alone that is critical of the UNHRC. On September 22, Newsweek wrote that "in a year during which the world body marked the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many see the new rights council as a stain on the UN's reputation."

The present Human Rights Council, comprising 47 members, was created in 2006 to replace the former, 53-member UN Commission on Human Rights. When Sudan was elected despite the Darfur genocide, the US delegation walked out, calling on the commission to consider the consequences of becoming a safe haven for the world's worst human rights violators, especially those engaged in ethnic cleansing.

US President Barack Obama has since reversed this decision, and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has said that the US sought a seat to improve the "flawed body that has not lived up to its potential."

In the first full year since the current council came into existence, every one of its country-specific resolutions was directed against Israel. Nine of these 10 resolutions were brought by Arab and/or Islamic groups, while, during the same period, serious human rights crises elsewhere were ignored. Since its creation, the council has passed 20 resolutions on Israel, more than the total number of resolutions for all the 191 other UN members combined. The council also has held 11 special sessions - five of them focused exclusively on Israel.

Even Judge Richard Goldstone acknowledged the blatant bias in the UNHRC. In May, in his remarks after the MacArthur Award for International Justice was conferred on him, he said, "It is not satisfactory that the accountability of Israel for its recent military campaign in Gaza sought by some members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should be partial and not even-handed. The terms of the resolution of the Human Rights Council of April 2009 appeared to me and many others as being partial and biased."

And Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights and a frequent critic of Israel, confirmed that the council's resolution was one-sided and did not permit a balanced approach to determining the situation on the ground. It was for this reason that she refused to lead the mission.

In a recent interview, Robinson posed the question whether "governments will give Judge Goldstone's findings the serious attention they deserve, or instead fall back into an overtly political posture."

Under the circumstances, one must fear that the political posture will prevail.

This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1255204772368&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull
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