Why Mary Robinson rejected the mandate accepted by Judge Goldstone

With hearings to be held in Geneva next week by the UN Human Rights Council inquiry into the Israel-Gaza war, headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, it is interesting to recall that former UN rights chief Mary Robinson, as well as former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, were among the many international personalities that refused U.N. offers to head the mission.

See A. Jourdan, “Le juge Goldstone va conduire l’enquête sur la bande de Gaza,” Tribune de GenèveTribune de Genève, April 6, 2009 (“Une mission que plusieurs personnalités, dont l’ancien président finlandais Martti Ahtisaari et l’ancien haut-commissaire de l’ONU pour les droits de l’homme Mary Robinson, ont refusé), and see also “L’ONU charge R. Goldstone d’enquêter sur d’éventuels crimes de guerre à Gaza,” Agence France Presse, April 3, 2009 (“Selon des sources diplomatiques, plusieurs personnalités sollicitées — dont l’ancien président finlandais Martti Ahtisaari et l’ancien Haut commissaire de l’ONU pour les droits de l’homme Mary Robinson — ont décliné l’offre de diriger cette mission d’enquête).

Here’s what Robinson said on March 9, 2009, about the resolution that created the mission now headed by Judge Goldstone:

[U]nfortunately, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that’s a human rights approach.

To be sure, Goldstone claims that the council president gave him special “terms of reference” that expanded this mandate in order to include an examination of all sides, but the president has no power to change a council resolution, and the council itself never amended its entirely one-sided mandate. At the recent June 2009 session, UN Watch pointedly challenged the council to accept the purported mandate expansion, but it declined to do so.

One has to ask: since the January resolution opens with a Paragraph 1 that “strongly condemns” Israel as guilty of “massive violations,” what is it exactly that the Goldstone mission is investigating?

The answer is that the Goldstone mission is trying to have its cake and eat it, too. It is a mission created by the biased Human Rights Council, and it is to that body that team members will report in September. Yet the mission has tried as much as possible to distance itself from the council, including in its name, “United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” which deliberately makes no mention of the council.

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