Then: Guardian Newspaper Slammed ‘Richard-Richard’ Goldstone Inquiry as ‘Rubbish Bin’

That the U.N.’s Goldstone Report on alleged war crimes in Gaza is a travesty of justice is apparent from its skewed contents, method, and conclusions, as well as its tainted political framwework, one-sided mandate, and prejudiced mission members.

I do not believe, as some do, that there is much to gain by casting aspersions on Goldstone’s widely respected career, although it is certainly relevant to counter the false claim that he has a record of notably pro-Israel actions. (In fact, he has a record of significant actions harshly critical of Israel.)

I am perfectly willing to recognize that Goldstone has accomplished many good things in his life, as those close to him have attested to me, even if his actions surrounding the report have been disreputable in the extreme.

That said, it is remarkable to observe how Goldstone is being lionized by certain circles solely because that is seen as useful to skewer Israel.

For example, these days, The Guardian of London has shown itself to be one of the most enthusiastic admirers of Richard Goldstone, running countless news articles, op-eds and editorials supporting his UN report on alleged war crimes in Gaza, including this one from December, which invokes the Goldstone Report to support the thesis that the UK’s public interest lies in prosecuting visiting Israelis for war crimes.

Interestingly, however, when there was no incentive to skewer Israel, the same Guardian of London reported that Richard Goldstone ran a “much vaunted” judicial commission of inquiry that “failed dismally,” describing it was a “rubbish bin” used by the South African government; reported Goldstone’s “disturbing” practice by which he acted with “overt political ‘sensitivity’,” including his being “at pains to involve the politically distinguished in the conduct of his inquiry”; and of harboring such ambition to succeed Boutros-Boutros Ghali’s post as UN Secretary-General, that Goldstone’s legal colleagues gave him the nickname of “Richard-Richard.” 

That Goldstone has aspired to high U.N. office — and was twice named as being on the short list for UN High Commissioner for Human Rights — demonstrates his affinity and proximity to U.N. circles in which a minimum measure of public hostility to Israel, especially if the aspirant is a suspect Jew, is de rigueur.

UN Watch has documented in these pages the gross abuse of international laws, rules and procedures committed by Goldstone since heading the UN Human Rights Council’s deceptively-named “fact-finding mission.” Why is the Guardian completely uninterested?

Here’s what the Guardian had to say about Goldstone’s inquiry back in 1994:

The Guardian (London)
March 21, 1994
IN PRETORIA’S CESSPIT
The commission claiming credit for exposing the arms-to-Inkatha scandal is hardly first with the news

By David Beresford
THE GUARDIAN FEATURES PAGE; Pg. 22

THE “Iron Man” was how one Johannesburg newspaper yesterday described Mr Justice Richard Goldstone, the Supreme Court judge who has supposedly bust South Africa’s “Third Force”. The hero of the moment had his face plastered across the front page, gazing pensively out of a hotel window. An accompanying story suggested the secret of his personal dynamism lay in a combination of adrenalin and a sense of achievement and vindication after he had named Deputy Commissioner Basie Smit and two other police generals as having allegedly been behind political violence.If the judge does nurse any such feelings they might well be described as misplaced. Because the report he released so dramatically on Friday night will be seen by many as evidence that his much vaunted judicial commission of inquiry has failed dismally.

The report which has caused all the excitement – “The interim report on criminal political violence by elements within the South African Police, the KwaZulu Police and the Inkatha Freedom Party” – is an extraordinary document in many respects. Curiously, the least of them is the disclosures it makes, few of which amount to much that is new to those who have had the frustrating experience of following the “Third Force” controversy. More striking is the illustration the report provides of the style of the judge and the character of the commission.

In the legal fraternity, Mr Justice Goldstone is known fondly, if a little cruelly, as “Richard-Richard”. Cruelly, because the nickname is a play on Boutros Boutros-Ghali and is intended to suggest that the judge’s ambitions include the UN Secretary-General’s post.

While there is no suggestion that such ambitions have any influence on his work on the bench – he is recognised as a brilliant member of South Africa’s highest court, the Appellate Division – his overt political “sensitivity” where the activities of the Commission is concerned is disturbing.

The essence of a judicial commission of inquiry is its independence of political influence. Once it has been granted its terms of reference and powers by government, it should proceed with its investigations without reference back until the time comes for a report to be presented. Judge Goldstone, however, has shown himself at pains to involve the politically distinguished in the conduct of his inquiry.

Last week, for example, when he released a press statement announcing a delay in the release of the report, he declared that he was keeping Nelson Mandela briefed on his progress. Why he should find it necessary to confide in the leader of a political party, and why he should exclude from his confidence the leaders of rival parties – the Pan Africanist Party or, for that matter, the Soccer Party, which is also fighting next month’s election – is difficult to imagine.

But the judge clearly feels himself to be at the centre of a political drama, as is evident from the breathless narrative of the report. And he shows himself constantly open to outside advice. On March 15, for example, “at the request of the State President”, he informed the Minister of Law and Order, Hernus Kriel, of the allegations being made against the generals. “The Minister then requested that the allegations be put to the Commissioner of Police.” The Commissioner “expressed the view that it would be fair and just” if the allegations were put to the three accused police generals. The learned judge, having thus been apprised of the “audi alteram partem” rule, duly agreed.

The Goldstone Commission is probably the most powerful judicial inquiry in South African legal history. Armed with extremely wide terms of reference, with its own task force of “untouchables”, with powers of subpoena and search and seemingly limitless funding (there is now even a Goldstone research institute), he has been ideally placed to rip open the cesspit of conspiracy and murder to be found among the foundations of the governance of South Africa.

His lamentable failure to do so – lamentable because it has incalculable consequences in terms of lives – has been underlined by the reverse achievements of the press; by the breakthroughs of investigative journalism which the Commission has, ironically, only impeded. In June last year, for example, the Commission effectively shot down an investigation by the small Johannesburg newspaper, the Weekly Mail, showing that graduates of a combat school run for Inkatha members by South African military intelligence were central to “hit squad” activities in Natal and the Transvaal. Friday’s report adds weight to the original allegations.

The characters and units named in Friday’s report are almost all familiar, at least to readers of South Africa’s “alternative” press: the assassination unit on the farm, Vlakplaas; its commander, Eugene De Kock; his mysterious “Badger Unit” (mis)representing itself as an old boys’ club of laid-off state assassins; Jan Buchner, a key figure in the “dirty war” against the ANC who became commissioner of police in KwaZulu; Leon Flores, sent to London to plan the murder of Captain Dirk Coetzee, De Kock’s predecessor.Sections of the report could almost be paraphrases of press cuttings now yellowing with age. “A large quantity of weapons from Koevoet in the former South West Africa was transported to Vlakplaas in the late 1980s. They included AK-47s, mortars, RPG-7s, hand grenades among others,” reported the commission on Friday. In an interview with the Guardian published in August 1991, Captain Coetzee was quoted as saying: “De Kock went to Namibia with some of his men from Vlakplaas and came back with truck-loads of Russian arms from Koevoet-captured arms caches: unregistered weapons, land mines, SKSs (assault rifles), AK-47s, and bullets by the million.” It was these weapons, the captain went on to say, which were being used by the Third Force to destabilise South Africa.

It was already clear then that the Third Force was, as Captain Coetzee described it, “a loose alliance between the dirty tricks departments of the military and the police, involving personnel and equipment from South Africa’s frontline wars, notably in Rhodesia, Mozambique, and Namibia”. The strategy, the Captain went on, “based on that used by the security forces against Swapo, is one of undermining the ANC and boosting its political opponents in order to cheat it at least of overall political control of the country.” The guilty men, he added, were headed by former commanders of the security branch; men he named, like General Basie Smit.

In the two and a half years since Captain Coetzee made those allegations, the guilty men have gone a long way towards achieving the goals he accused them of pursuing. Distributing weapons, training dissidents, fostering hatred, fear and polarisation, they have brought closer than ever before the civil war which is their only chance of cheating the ANC of its populist heritage.

During that time the Goldstone enquiry has been little more than a rubbish bin, used by the government – whether or not as co-conspirators – to avoid public confrontation with the reality of the rottenness of South Africa. The Goldstone Commission’s “disclosure” of the Third Force offers little ground for celebration. It amounts to little more than a demonstration of the inadequacy of judges when engaged in the deadly game which is South African politics.

Goldstone Claims Nickname Was Journalistic ‘Invention’ 

Five years later, in a 1999 interview in which he responded to South African President F.W. de Klerk’s reference to the “Richard-Richard” nickname, Goldstone claimed that it was all a figment of the journalist’s imagination, concocted for a satiric piece and then later included in The Guardian:

It’s quite amusing, the ‘Richard Richard’ story was an invention of the chap from the Mail & Guardian, David Beresford. He concocted that as a sort of humorous thing in one of his satirical columns. As far as I’m aware that’s where it began and ended and it had a funny sequel because soon after it was printed he called me about something to do with the commission and I returned his call and he wasn’t there and I left a message to say, “Please tell him that Richard Richard called.” He so enjoyed that he referred to it in an article which appeared in The Guardian. 

However, according to the July 1994 article below, it would seem that Berseford’s original reference to the nickname was in the Guardian profile above, which was in no way a satiric piece. In this second article Beresford again reports that in South African legal circles Goldstone was known as “Richard-Richard.” The article reiterates concerns about Goldstone’s politicization of the judiciary and the “debatable” achievements of his commission. There is nothing indicating that the nickname was the journalist’s invention.

The Guardian (London)
July 9, 1994

GOLDSTONE TO TAKE WAR CRIMES JOB

David Beresford, in Johannesburg

THE GUARDIAN FOREIGN PAGE; Pg. 13

THE South African judge who investigated the Third Force allegations, Richard Goldstone, was yesterday approved as prosecutor of the United Nations Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal.

“It will be a tremendous honour,” said Mr Goldstone, adding that he expected to assume the post in a few weeks. The vacancy was created earlier this year when the former prosecutor, Ramon Escovar Salom, was appointed Venezuela’s interior minister.

Judge Goldstone’s name was put forward by the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an aspect which is likely to strike an ironic note with his colleagues in South Africa.

A member of the country’s Appeal Court, Mr Goldstone is regarded as having a brilliant, liberal mind. He is known for being ambitious and having a sense of humour.

Recently the Guardian published a profile of him which said his nickname in legal circles was “Richard-Richard”, because he was believed to have his eyes on Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s post. A few days later he rang the Guardian’s South African bureau, gleefully introducing himself as “Richard-Richard”.

There is, however, likely to be some uneasiness in South Africa at acceptance of the high-profile UN appointment, particularly if he intends to keep his place on the bench. He was criticised for dragging the judiciary into political controversy while investigating the Third Force allegations.

The achievements of the Goldstone commission, set up in 1991 to investigate political violence in South Africa, are debatable. It failed to bring about prosecutions against any of the senior security force personnel widely believed to have been behind a murderous conspiracy to de-rail a political settlement. But it is possible that the commission contributed significantly to the eventual failure of the conspiracy.

He is expected to be determined in his pursuit of war criminals. By one account, the attempt by the Goldstone commission to implicate three police generals, among others, in the Third Force – resulted partly from the indignation he felt watching Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List.

1 Response to “Then: Guardian Newspaper Slammed ‘Richard-Richard’ Goldstone Inquiry as ‘Rubbish Bin’”


  • I don’t know if you are aware of comments published about Goldstone relating to his “Commission” in South Africa in the 90s.

    Dr Anthea Jeffery head of special research at the South African Institute of Race Relations has recently published a book “People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa” inwhich she apparently comments on that commission.
    There is a review at
    http://www.sajewishreport.co.za/pdf/2009/nov/27-november-2009.pdf
    on page 10 which is highly critical in his role of helping conceal the ANC’s role in violence.

Leave a Reply