The Double Standards in the Council’s Investigatory Missions

by Elizabeth Cassidy

The differential treatment of Israel and Sudan by the Human Rights Council in 2006 extends not only to the findings that its resolutions made (discussed in my previous post), but also to the actions that they mandated. All four resolutions from the Council’s four special sessions established investigatory missions, but they did so in very different ways. The three missions on Israel were crafted to guarantee sole and un-nuanced condemnation, while the one on Darfur was crafted to guarantee not only fairness, but deference, to Sudan.

In all three special sessions on Israel—which dealt with Israeli military actions in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon—the Council first found Israel guilty of violations and then sent out investigators to gather the evidence in support. Moreover, the missions’ mandates ensured that they did not consider the ongoing conflicts’ full context, allowing only Israel’s conduct to be investigated and requiring that all other parties’ conduct be ignored. For example, the mission of “eminent experts on human rights law and international humanitarian law” established at the second special session was tasked “(a) To investigate the systematic targeting and killing of civilians by Israel in Lebanon; (b) To examine the types of weapons used by Israel and their conformity with international law; [and] (c) To assess the extent and deadly impact of Israeli attacks on human life, property, critical infrastructure and the environment.” This mission—a Greek professor, a Tanzanian judge, and a Brazilian former OAS Secretary-General—visited only Lebanon, its report censured only Israel, and its work, predictably, was lauded by the OIC and friends.

Yet consider the same parties’ reaction to another report on the Lebanon war. After the cease-fire there, four of the Council’s independent human rights experts—the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, the right to health, the rights of internally displaced persons, and the right to housing—decided, on their own initiative, to make a joint investigatory visit to Lebanon and Israel. Their report dared to criticize both Israel and Hezbollah for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations during the war, and it even recommended that the Council “having addressed the conduct of Israel, . . .should also ensure that Hizbollah’s attacks are thoroughly investigated.” When this report was presented to the Council in late September, more than 20 OIC countries and their allies, including China, Cuba and the Russian Federation, lined up one after the other to condemn and reject it. Only Canada, Switzerland, Finland (for the EU), and non-members Chile and the United States, defended the four rapporteurs’ attempt at balance.

In contrast to the resolutions against Israel, the special session resolution on Sudan did not find any human rights or humanitarian law violations, by any party, in Darfur, but only a serious “situation.” The investigatory mission was tasked “to assess the human rights situation in Darfur and the needs of the Sudan in this regard” and, in doing so, “to consult as appropriate” with the government of Sudan. Moreover, the Council President’s selection of the mission’s members required consultation with Council members—a majority of which had fought off any criticism of the Sudanese government. As a result, unlike any previous mission, the Darfur assessment mission’s six members included the Geneva permanent representatives of two Council member states: the Ambassadors of Gabon and Indonesia, both of whom have a record of speaking and voting in Sudan’s defense.

Nevertheless, even after obtaining these concessions, Sudan reneged on its representations that it accepted the resolution and would admit the assessment team. The team did travel to Ethiopia and Chad but the Khartoum government denied it visas, reportedly due to its objections to one team member—a professor and former acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who, when in the UN position, had had the temerity to criticize Sudan.

The Darfur assessment team will present its report, which was released yesterday, to the Council on Friday. Despite all the machinations by Khartoum and its allies, the report is strong and specific, finding “gross and systematic violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law,” including war crimes and crimes against humanity, by the Sudanese government, its allied militias, and rebel movements. Apparently, aside from in certain groups in the Council, it is quite difficult to find people willing to explain away the ongoing atrocities in Darfur.

The Indonesian Ambassador quit the Darfur team over disputes with the other members as to the findings, and it is expected that the OIC will reject the report. It is not yet certain—although given past events, it seems probable—that the OIC will be able to keep the entire African and Asian Groups, and thereby the Council’s majority, with it this time.

2 Responses

  1. What a train wreck… perhaps it’s high time to start withholding our UN dues again.

  2. Perhaps the difference is that the Sudanese report might actually be worth the paper it is printed on? The next time Israel notices a UN resolution it dislikes will be the first. I would also guess that there is a lot less evidence on Darfur; HRW and so forth were on the ground in Lebanon, I’m not sure if they are still in Darfur. And Hamas is not a state; does the UN have jurisdiction over it? If so one might easily condemn the Darfurian rebels, they are certainly not helping anything.

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