Toronto, Canada, Sept. 12, 2009 – Thirty Canadian lawyers are challenging the refusal of a U.N. investigator to step down from an inquiry on the recent Gaza conflict, saying London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin’s presence on the panel — after she declared Israel guilty prior to seeing any evidence — “necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report.”
While UN rights chief Navi Pillay and groups critical of Israel say the imminent report, authored by a UN Human Rights Council inquiry headed by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, should be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court, Geneva diplomats say U.S. and Western states will block any such attempt by the Arab and Islamic blocs.
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.
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 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 possibility of attributing any legal weight to their report.”
Letter by 30 Canadian lawyers follows below.
Professor Christine Chinkin
London School of Economics
London, WC2A 2AE
8 September 2009
Dear Professor Chinkin,
We wish to express our support for the UN Watch request that you be disqualified from the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict and our disappointment that this well-founded request was recently rejected by the mission, as reported by London’s Jewish Chronicle (“Dispute over ‘biased’ Gaza inquiry professor,” 28 August 2009).
Judge Richard Goldstone, as head of the mission, promised at the outset that it would be impartial. Impartiality requires that fact-finders be free of any commitment to a preconceived outcome. Because you expressed yourself on the merits of the issues prior to seeing any of the evidence, you cannot be considered impartial.
On 11 January 2009, The Sunday Times published a letter signed by you and others, which stated that you “categorically reject” 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”. You concluded that Israel was acting contrary to international law.
When you were asked about this during a May 2009 meeting with Geneva NGOs, you denied that your impartiality was compromised, saying that your Sunday Times letter only addressed jus ad bellum, and not jus in bello. (Audio recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfiHbvTpmKQ.)
However, your letter to The Sunday Times 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”.
All these are disputed issues which must surely bear on the fact-finding mission in which you are engaged. As a professor of international law at the London School of Economics, it behooves you to recognize that your actions have given rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias. Your refusal to step down necessarily compromises the integrity of this inquiry and its report.
Stanley W L Freedman
Eric M. Levy
David Matas Q.C.
David M. Goodman
Adam S. Goodman
Igor Ellyn Q.C.