Thirty Canadian lawyers are challenging the refusal of a U.N. investigator to step down from an inquiry on the recent Gaza conflict, arguing that London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin’s participation on the panel — after she declared Israel guilty prior to seeing any evidence — “necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report.”
Arab and Islamic countries hope to use the imminent report, authored by a UN Human Rights Council inquiry headed by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, to indict Israel at the International Criminal Court, a move recently supported by UN rights chief Navi Pillay. However, Geneva diplomats say U.S. and Western states will block any such attempt.
In early May, UN Watch, a Geneva non-governmental organization that monitors the world body’s human rights system, appeared before the U.N. panel to urge Goldstone and the other members to disqualify Chinkin, invoking “the impartiality principle that Goldstone promised to uphold,” and “the due process requirements of morality, logic and international law.”
Despite the NGO’s filing of legal briefs in July and August, as reported by Agence France Presse and Deutsche Presse Agentur, the Goldstone mission waited until recently to respond, summarily rejecting the petition. UN Watch’s appeal last week to the new president of the Human Rights Council, Belgian ambassador Alex van Meeuwen, received no response.
In an August interview with South Africa’s Business Day, Goldstone admitted that “If it had been a judicial inquiry, that letter [Chinkin] signed would have been a ground for disqualification.”
According to former Montrealer Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, “Goldstone’s implied argument that his inquiry is somehow exempt from the impartiality rule simply defies logic, morality and established international law. At the same time, Goldstone’s effective admission that his report is the product of something other than an impartial panel seriously calls into question the legal possibility of attributing any evidentiary weight or credibility to their report.”
The lawyers’ letter, signed by attorneys from prominent law firms and human rights organizations in Toronto, Montreal and other Canadian cities, challenges the U.N.’s recent rejection of a request that she be disqualified due to her January condemnation of Israel on the very disputed issues that the inquiry is meant to impartially examine.
On 11 January 2009, The Sunday Times published a letter signed by Chinkin in which she stated that she “categorically rejects” Israel’s right to claim self-defence against Hamas rocket attacks “deplorable as they are” and that “Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence”. Chinkin’s letter was not limited to Israel’s decision to conduct a military operation in Gaza. It also expressed the categorical view that the Palestinians killed in the operation were “mostly civilians”, that humanitarian relief was blockaded by Israel, and that the operation was contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. It concluded that “the manner and scale of [Israel’s] operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law”.
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