Why Richard Falk is Unqualified to be a UN Special Rapporteur

Why Richard Falk is Unqualified to be a UN Special Rapporteur

Richard Falk, an eminent professor of international law and politics at Princeton, was expelled from Israel yesterday while he acting as the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories.  Falk was expelled by Israel because Israel believed his investigation, and indeed the UN Human Rights Council itself, is irredeemably biased against Israel.  This is probably true, at least with respect to Falk.  Falk has made no bones about his views on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, even recently describing Israel’s actions toward Gaza a “crime against humanity.”  So Falk is not the sober, respected, neutral investigator that his title (“special rapporteur”) suggests he should be.  

But the problem is not really with Falk nor his rather overt bias against Israel.  Rather, the problem is that he is basically unqualified to be a human rights investigator.  He is one of the American international law academy’s bigwigs, although from a much earlier generation. He has serious academic stature, but nothing in his academic work suggests he is well-positioned to be a fair-minded, objective, effective investigator.  His work is overwhelmingly normative and theoretical. So Falk may be a well-known and influential scholar in his day, but none of this means he would be a very good investigator tasked with gathering complex and sometimes hotly contested facts in a highly dangerous and politicized environment and then applying legal norms to those facts in a credible and persuasive way.  He, like most law professors, is in the habit of simply taking the facts as given (and he seems to have already done so here).  

Frankly, I doubt any international law professors, at least in the US academy, are qualified to do such a task, if the task is really to investigate and research a very difficult and complex factual situation.  So the question is: why did the UN Human Rights Council appoint someone like him, who is already on the record about his views on the situation and is not particularly qualified to add any more facts to the story or convince anyone who isn’t already convinced? Why, indeed?

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Kenneth Anderson

Not to mention Professor Falk’s bizarre emergence as a “9-11 Truther” – he had expressed these views on various occasions prior to his UN appointment, and they have increased, rather than decreased, since his appointment.  it says a lot about the Human Rights Council and, alas, the governments and NGOs that, in 2005, thought it such an excellent compromise that Professor Falk could be appointed to such a post.  I realize that many of us, me included, have fond recollections of Professor Falk as a professor and scholar, and were it not for his official position, one would merely pass over this 9-11 stuff in slightly embarrassed silence.  But unfortunately, Professor Falk occupies a highly visible, highly sensitive post in the real world.  Or anyway, it would be were it not part of the apparatus of the irredeemable HRC.   

Kevin Jon Heller

I completely agree with Julian.  Just thought I’d point that out, given its rarity.


[…] and the expulsion is likely to be met with criticism, it is pertinent to make a few points. Over on Opino Juris, Julian Ku fittingly questions whether Falk is at all qualified to investigate alleged human rights […]

Patrick S. O'Donnell

“Biased against [the state of] Israel”–absolute poppycock. I disagee with all of you, and it’s rare when I disagree with Kevin, but so be it. The fact that Falk has adamantly insisted that, “Since 1967, Israel had administered a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in consistent and relentless defiance of the ovewrwhelming will of the organized international community” is in fact what gets under the craw of some many folks, including academics in international law, especially those in this country. The fact is that this “international consensus” has been expressed “through widely supported resolutions passed by the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations,” counts for little or nothing with these academics. UN Resolutions 242 and 338 affirmed the legal obligation of Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories obtained in the 1967 Six Day War: “Until such time as Israel respects this obligation, the relevant principles of international law…contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Aug. 12, 1949), in particular those provisions of the Convention that require an occupying power to protect the status quo, human rights, and prospects for self-determination of the occupied… Read more »


Thanks to Patrick for posting our exchange at IntLawGrrls about this matter. I don’t really think that the issue here is about Falk, per se, and certainly I suspect that the Israeli government could have acted more respectfully in this instance, but there is an interesting underlying question to be asked here which Julian at least hints at in his original post. Namely, ought special rapporteurs to have some kind of specific skill set re information gathering and reporting, or is the intellectual capacity to put information together, present it coherently, and analyse it against legal standards as established sufficient for the job of special rapporteur? To be honest my gut feeling is that professors/lecturers are probably well equipped to act as expert advisors, and indeed some have done excellent jobs as special rapporteurs, but the question is whether professorial status in and of itself qualifies one? My suspicion is that it doesn’t, but that any good researcher will know the limits of their own capacities and take on board experts and researchers and advisors as required. Given the relative regularity with which we have to carry out such tasks in our everyday work (especially where people do empirical and/or… Read more »

Alex Welsh
Alex Welsh

Julian’s question-whether law professors are necessarily the best qualified people to be human rights investigators-is certainly well taken.  I don’t agree, however, how this is an adequate basis to expel a Special Rappoteur, no matter how normative and theoretical his work may be. 

As for Falk’s alleged “irredemable” anti-Israel bias, I agree with Patrick that this is, at the very least, a questionable proposition.  The mere fact that Falk found crimes against humanity in this case does not show that he’s biased. 

Either there have been violations of international law or there have not.  I wouid submit that this question should be the proper starting point for an inquiry into the UN investigation.  If there is no evidence that human rights violations are occurring, then, perhaps, one’s opinion of Richard Falk might become relevant.  

Until you can show actual evidence of bias, I think all the “why indeed…” innuendo is premature not to mention inflamatory.

Charles Gittings

I have to agree with Patrick. What qualifications do you need exactly?

And since when is Julian Ku’s bias against IHL in general evidence of anyone else’s bias against Israel?

The crimes of Israel against the Palestinians are as obvious as those of the Nazis against the Jews, or racists here in the US against African and Native Americans. The fact that Julian would suggest such a statement indicates a bias against Israel is simply evidence of his own profound dishonesty. FACTS ARE FACTS.

M. Gross
M. Gross

So the question is: why did the UN Human Rights Council appoint someone like him, who is already on the record about his views on the situation and is not particularly qualified to add any more facts to the story or convince anyone who isn’t already convinced?

I think you’re asking a question you already know the answer to.