16 Dec 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?