By Stephanie Gutmann Last updated: September 18th, 2009
There has been much ink spilled this week, including in the Telegraph, about the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone Report (named after its principal investigator Judge Richard Goldstone) is a product of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council and the result of a five month so-called “fact-finding” mission undertaken to investigate conduct during the last winter’s war between Hamas and the Israel Defense Force. Its findings, that Israel committed war crimes, are being given wide, solemn, and nearly context-free airing in the world’s media.
But context is absolutely critical. Let’s recall who the UN’s Human Rights Council is, shall we? Leaving out the history of this group while billboarding the finding of its supposedly objective report is like writing a review of “Bernard Madoff’s Guide to Growing Your Money” (if there was such a thing) without mentioning that Madoff is doing life for running an investment ponzie scheme that robbed hundreds of their life savings.
The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 as a replacement for the UN’s discredited Human Rights Commission. Chaired by Libya, with members like Sudan, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and China, that Commission had spent most of its time “investigating” Israel and thinking up reasons not to look at stonings, clitorectomies and other gross human rights abuses in its member countries. By 2006 the Commission had become, as the New York Times put it, “the shame of the United Nations” wherein “some of world’s most abusive regimes have won seats … and used them to insulate themselves from criticism. ”
It soon became clear, however, that the shiny, new Council would not be terribly different from the Commission. No mechanism had been established for screening out countries with poor human rights records, so member countries like Egypt, Angola, Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Russia, China, and Cuba and their satellites have been able to easily outvote the seven member block of “European and Other Countries” which includes democracies like France, Germany and the UK.
Given its heavy compliment of Muslim and Arab countries, the Council has spent its time since its inception protecting sharia law (in a resolution which sought to criminalize criticisms of Islam) and rebuking Israel. The Council was launched in April, 2006. By June, it had sponsored a resolution to make a review of possible human rights abuses by Israel “a permanent feature of every council session”. The Council’s “special rapporteur on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” would become the only expert on the Council with a permanent mandate. By that August, the Council had formed a commission to investigate whether Israel targeted Lebanese civilians during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Several member nations pointed out that the council should also look at Hezbollah’s targeting of Israeli civilians. (The conflict did start, after all, with a fusillade of rockets launched by Hezbollah at Israeli towns) but the Council ignored this dimension in its report, with a statement that “the Commission is not entitled, even if it had wished, to construe [its charter] as equally authorizing the investigation of the actions by Hezbollah in Israel”.
On November 2006, this conduct had attracted the attention of then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who criticized the Human Rights Council for “disproportionate focus on violations by Israel” while neglecting “graver crises” in other parts of the world such as Darfur. By April 2007, the Council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel, the only country which it had specifically condemned. About Sudan, it expressed “deep concern.”
Last December Reuters reported that:
Independent human rights groups say the council has fallen under the control of a bloc of Islamic and African states, usually back by China, Cuba and Russia, who protect each other from criticism.
Of the eight special sessions on serious rights situations that the Council has held, four have focused on Israeli behavior in occupied Palestinian lands and Lebanon and one the generalized topic of the global food crisis.
One on Sudan’s Darfur region, and another earlier this month on the violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, produced resolutions largely avoiding strictures against the governments of the two African countries.
Only one of the sessions, on Myanmar and its military rulers’ suppression of pro-democracy protesters in 2007, has ended with serious criticism of the behavior of a developing country government.
This, then, is the culture that produced the Goldstone Report. Separate treatises could be written about the glaring and established anti-Israel animus of individual members of the panel and on the group’s methods. (The New York Times reports for example that the panel “did not attempt an exhaustive look at the war”, just “36 cases that it said constituted a representative sample.” But how were those 36 cases chosen and who decides that they are “representative”?)
I get tired of repeating this but apparently I must: Last winter’s conflict between the IDF and Hamas began after the IDF decided it had to put a stop to the near daily rocketing of their Southern towns. Rockets had killed and maimed children and adults; they regularly hit schools, kindergartens, and homes. The barrage of approximately 8,000 rockets began – I have to repeat this – began, after Israel withdrew its soldiers and dissolved all of the Israeli communities in Gaza in one of the biggest “land for peace” gestures in its history.
In Operation Cast Lead, the IDF employed drones, intelligence, and made every effort to mount a surgical attack, but was faced with an opponent who used homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals as military bases. Israel escaped large casualties largely because of it has invested in civil defence, in training to its citizens to move quickly into shelters and to live there if need be. Hamas has had the means to build a system of bomb shelters for its citizens, but as a Palestinian friend of mine put it, “They don’t want to. Civilian casualties are too useful to them.”
The report actually touched on Hamas’s strategy of using human shields when it cited Hamas leader Fathi Hammad, who boasted that:
“For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children. This is why they have formed humans shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘We desire death like you desire life.’”
But the report went on to conclude that “it does not consider [this admission] to constitute evidence [of the deliberate use of human shields]“.
If the world community does not greet this kangaroo court’s report with the sceptism it deserves, it rewards the use of human shields. And we cannot complain if we see more terrorism and more innocents put in front of missile launchers.
Stephanie Gutmann was a journalist in Manhattan for about 16 years. She is the author of The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America’s Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars? and The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy.