Published in The Tower, March 1, 2014.
Above: Grietje Baars, the Dutch-born Marxist law professor and
anti-Israel law professor and activist, was key author of the Goldstone Report
By Hillel Neuer
For more than five years, the question of who exactly authored the UN’s 2009 Goldstone Report has been an enduring mystery. The report, written under the auspices of South African Judge Richard Goldstone, was a shocking 500-page indictment of Israel that accused its political and military leadership of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and condemned the Jewish state as a whole for systematic and institutionalized racism, among other atrocities and abominations.
The answer to that riddle—which involves a radical Marxist law professor who held the equivalent of a general’s rank in the global lawfare movement against Israel, and more broadly, the UN department that selected her—has additional importance today because of the controversy swirling over the upcoming sequel to the Goldstone Report dealing with 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva on March 23.
Understanding who wrote the 2009 report—and how the establishment behind it remains in place—constitutes a direct rebuttal to the latest campaign by HRC backers and activist groups to salvage the reputation and legitimacy of the Goldstone II commission of inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes.
Following the February 2 resignation of commission chair William Schabas under a cloud of bias accusations, including the revelation that he had done paid legal work for the PLO, defenders have insisted that Schabas’ stewardship of the probe for six out of its seven months is a non-issue. His resignation has cured all defects, if they ever existed in the first place. “In this way,” says HRC president Joachim Ruecker, the German ambassador in Geneva, “even the appearance of a conflict of interest is avoided, thus preserving the integrity of the process.”
Yet the discovery of who really wrote Goldstone I challenges everything about the integrity of the “process” that is now producing Goldstone II, with or without the discredited Schabas.
In 2009, the fact that the UN commission was headed by Judge Richard Goldstone—who is Jewish and, apart from his involvement in UN circles and occasional criticism of Israeli actions, had been considered a supporter of Israel and of Jewish causes—was what gave the report its explosive impact, and deepened the mystery of how he could possibly have authored a report so dripping with malice. Indeed, it is worth stating again that the 2009 report cast Israel as a wicked and racist predatory state whose leaders gathered around a cabinet table to orchestrate crimes against humanity.
In weighing the evidence and various accusations, the report repeatedly gave the benefit of the doubt to the terrorist group Hamas. By contrast, Israeli defensive actions were consistently interpreted as part of an over-arching plan to oppress, discriminate against, and murder Palestinian civilians. For example, evidence of perfidy by Hamas gunmen, i.e., their well-known policy and practice of pretending to be civilians, was summarily dismissed with logic and language that strained credulity and coherence:
While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of the Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from the civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from the attack.
Likewise, despite common knowledge and the existence of considerable evidence, the commissioners also “found no indication” that Hamas used human shields, that its chiefs employed the al-Shifa hospital as their headquarters, or that Hamas stored rockets in mosques.
The report did not restrict itself to examining Operation Cast Lead, but offered lengthy narrative sections on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Israel was portrayed in Manichean terms as an oppressive state.
And while Israel’s Sunni Arab neighbors had noticeably opposed Hamas’ actions during the 2009 war, fearful of the role played by Iran in financing, training, and arming Hamas and Hezbollah, the Shi’a theocracy was mentioned nowhere in the report.
In summary, the report excoriated and demonized Israel, while exonerating Hamas.
The question of how Goldstone could have authored a report dismissed by international legal experts as enormously weak, and considered by Israel and the Jewish world as a modern-day blood libel, was only compounded by his subsequent op-eds in two major publications.
In April 2010, writing in the Washington Post, Goldstone retracted the most significant and inflammatory charge of the report: That Israel’s leaders deliberately targeted civilians. A year later, Goldstone published a New York Times op-ed, “Israel and the Apartheid Slander,” retracting another key accusation, which appears in the report no less than 40 times: That Israel’s security measures were motivated by racism rather than, as the South African jurist now made clear, the need “to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks.”
How could the pre-2009 and post-2009 Richard Goldstone be the same person who wrote the Goldstone Report? The question was never, as admirers of the report like Roger Cohen imagined, how and why Goldstone retracted. This made perfect sense given his eventual acknowledgment of the travesty of the report, as well as the political and legal positions he took before and after it. The mystery, rather, was how Goldstone could ever have authored the anti-Israel manifesto in the first place. This did not make any sense at all.
Part of the answer to the mystery of the Goldstone Report is well known: He was not the only commissioner. Goldstone was joined on the panel by three others, each of whom was known to have one-sided views of Israel: Hina Jilani of Pakistan; Christine Chinkin, who declared Israel guilty before she began work on the commission; and Col. Desmond Travers, who has stated that “Jewish lobbyists” control UK foreign policy. Clearly, since the report dealt extensively with supposed violations of international law, Chinkin the law professor played an important role.
Yet what no one has understood or appreciated until now is the decisive role in the “process”—to use the words of the current HRC president—played by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
To understand the OHCHR, one must understand the close relationship between two distinct but closely related UN entities. One is the 47-nation Human Rights Council, a political body heavily influenced by the vote-trading power and petrodollars of the Arab and Islamic states. It meets regularly three times a year for month-long sessions.
At the Arab states’ initiative, and with varying degrees of complicity by the EU and others, half of the resolutions passed by the HRC condemn Israel; there is a special agenda item against Israel at every HRC meeting; and the HRC has produced more emergency sessions and inquiries against Israel than any other country in the world.
The OHCHR is based nearby in Geneva. It is a thousand-strong bureaucracy that serves the council by carrying out its investigations, writing requested reports, staffing the council sessions, and acting year-round as its secretariat. From 2008 until this summer, the office was headed by High Commissioner Navi Pillay, who famously said that “the Israeli Government treats international law with perpetual disdain.”
Those who work in the OHCHR see themselves as an independent and neutral agency of the UN dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. Indeed, in many instances, well-intentioned OHCHR officials draft valuable reports for council-appointed experts that call out various countries’ violations of freedom of speech and use of torture and arbitrary arrest. In addition, they support the High Commissioner’s role as an independent voice that can criticize countries for human rights abuses.
At the same time, it is also OHCHR officials who supply the material demanded by politically-motivated if not Orwellian resolutions initiated by non-democracies like Cuba, China, and Syria.
It is OHCHR that conducted a workshop on “the impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights,” an anti-American initiative backed by regimes subject to sanctions; and which circulated questionnaires on Cuban resolutions like “the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” and the Syria-backed resolution on “the right to peace.”
From time to time, some OHCHR bureaucrats act on the margins, and only in small ways, to try to resist the more absurd and harmful dictates they receive from the political body. Yet when it comes to Israel, the position of the OHCHR under Navi Pillay has been more in line with the HRC than ever before. The most inflammatory and vitriolic notes from Arab speeches delivered to the council find their echo in the reports drafted by European nationals working for the OHCHR, many of whom are graduates of British universities and come from organizations like Amnesty International. If that weren’t enough, their work is subject to the scrutiny and constant pressure exerted by the 56-nation Islamic bloc.
Israel launched what it called Operation Cast Lead on December 27, 2008, declaring that it intended to stop rocket attacks from Gaza. Indeed, since 2001, Palestinian terrorists fired some 8,600 rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel. The fighting had not yet ended when the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the Jewish state for “grave violations” of human rights and called for an “independent” international investigation. An initial Council mandate authorized an inquiry to document only those violations committed by Israel. Yet when Council President Martin Uhomoibhi, the Nigerian ambassador in Geneva, announced the formation of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict on April 3, 2009, naming a four-person team headed by Goldstone to serve as the inquiry’s public face, he stated that Council would now examine “all violations.”
It is important to note that when the council calls an emergency session and votes to create a commission of inquiry, it is actually the OHCHR that does most of the work. First, top officials of the OHCHR draw up a shortlist and propose names of commissioners to the council president. The presidency is a position that rotates every year among the ambassadors from five regional groups. While it is the president who nominally has the power to make appointments, in practice the OHCHR plays an outsized role. In other words, like Sir Humphrey in the iconic British comedy “Yes Minister,” it is the top bureaucrats of the OHCHR who, in many ways, really run the show.
Thus, while Goldstone was appointed by the ambassador of Nigeria, who was council president in 2009, he himself acknowledged that he was first approached by High Commissioner Pillay, a fellow South African. Likewise, while Schabas was appointed in August by the ambassador from Gabon—the president during 2014—he too stated that he was first approached by Pillay. It is clear that the OHCHR plays a decisive role in picking the judges.
Second, and far more importantly, after the commissioners are appointed, the OHCHR’s role only increases. The commissioners only make a few short trips to Geneva in order to hear testimony, discuss the evidence, and give guidance. The drafting is done by a staff comprised of full-time OHCHR officials and outside staff recruited for the project by OHCHR itself.
At the time of the Goldstone Report, UN Watch highlighted the role of OHCHR’s Francesca Marotta as head of the secretariat. Questions were raised about her neutrality, not only because of the work she had done for the UN in Gaza, but also because of her scheduled participation in an anti-Israel lobbying event in Switzerland that was supporting the “Russell Tribunal on Palestine.” After a protest from UN Watch, which reminded Ban Ki-moon that Article 100 of the UN Charter requires that members of the UN Secretariat avoid partisan and political entanglements that compromise the principles of neutrality, objectivity, and professionalism, Marotta pulled out of the event.
Something that is vital to understand about UN commissions of inquiry is that, in practice, their commissioners don’t write the resulting report. The secretariat does. To be sure, some commissioners may provide directions and revisions—and it is clear that Schabas would have been more hands-on than others—but the bulk of the work is performed by a professional staff that can be comprised of human rights officers, forensics experts, and lawyers. As a result of this, chief-of-staff Marotta had the power to oversee the entire project.
Thus, through Marotta, senior officials within the OHCHR would have had the ability to exercise influence over the report—officials like Mona Rishmawi, a Palestinian lawyer who, prior to joining the OHCHR, had written articles comparing Israelis to Nazis.
The role of Marotta and the OHCHR was known at the time, if not fully appreciated. What a probe by UN Watch has now revealed, however, is that outside staff recruited by OHCHR included some of the most radical anti-Israel activists in the world.
One of the known staff members was Sareta Ashraph, whose job, as she described it, was to assist in the investigations, conduct interviews with victims and witnesses, and gather exhibits. Ashraph has also revealed that she was “responsible for drafting several chapters of the final report.”
When it comes to Israel, Ashraph is, to put it mildly, less than impartial. She was and remains a member of Amnesty International, one of the leading groups accusing Israel of war crimes in 2009, and which pushed for and defended the UN inquiry. She was the main organizer of a London lecture on behalf of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, featuring anti-Israel lawfare activists Raji Sourani (head of Palestinian Center for Human Rights) and Daniel Machover. She also worked in the West Bank on “investigations of allegations of violations of international humanitarian law following ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ in 2002.”
What has not been known until now is that the other key figure on the staff was, through her substantial anti-Israel publications, activism, and leadership role in waging lawfare, exponentially more problematic—someone whose life’s dream was to prosecute Israelis for war crimes and who devoted several years of her life to making this dream come true.
In the summer of 2009, Israeli and Palestinian witnesses were invited to Geneva to give testimony before Goldstone and the other three commissioners. An administrative information note issued to the witnesses and obtained by UN Watch reveals that there were just two secretariat staffers designated as lead contact persons on “substantive questions.” One was Ashraph. She was responsible for gathering the testimony of Israeli witnesses, and apparently wrote the report’s relatively minor chapter on Hamas rocket attacks. In a follow-up email, Ashraph told an Israeli witness that she hoped he would read the report and be “proud” of his contribution.
The only other name listed alongside Ashraph was Grietje Baars, a Dutch-born law professor who teaches in London. In contrast to Ashraph, who in the immediate aftermath of the report wrote in detail about her role in the Goldstone Report, Baars took pains to obscure her participation.
For some time afterwards, her Linkedin profile page only admitted to her having served as a generic “United Nations Human Rights Officer” for the several months during which she worked on the Goldstone Report. (She now states that she was “a member of the secretariat” of the Goldstone Commission and did “legal and factual research & analysis.”) Other profiles at the time, even though they mentioned her lecture on the Goldstone Report—for example, at the German National College for Security Studies—declined to list her role in writing it. Indeed, the degree to which Baars herself believed her activities were a threat to the report’s legitimacy was illustrated by her extraordinary efforts, in the initial period after the report came out, to keep her participation under wraps.
It is easy to see why. If people knew who Baars was and her role in the report, there would have been justified outrage at OHCHR for selecting her.
This would not have been for lack of legal credentials. Known today as Dr. Baars, she teaches international human rights law at the City Law School in London and previously taught at the University of East London and University College London (UCL). She holds a degree in English Literature from Utrecht, a Master’s of Law from UCL, and is a qualified solicitor. She completed her PhD at UCL in 2012, and has held visiting scholarships at numerous universities.
This means that, when OHCHR hired her to work on the Goldstone Report, they must have known about Baars’ scholarship. They must have known that she was a self-described Marxist whose doctoral thesis was “a radical Marxist critique of law and capitalism,” and that her academic focus included “anti-occupation struggles and their intersection with other solidarity/liberation struggles” such as “anti-capitalism, anarchism, animal, and queer liberation.”
OHCHR would certainly have known of Baars’ prominent advocacy scholarship against Israel, such as her 2007 law journal article in the Yearbook of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, entitled “Corrie et al. v Caterpillar: Litigating Corporate Complicity in Israeli Violations of International Law in the US Courts.” The article analyzes case law and suggests best practices regarding Palestinian lawfare efforts against Israel and the movement to boycott companies doing business with Israel, with numerous comparisons to the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis. Publications by Baars subsequent to her time on the Goldstone Report have also accused Israel of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches.”
But OHCHR must also have known that Baars was much more than a scholar: She was a hardcore anti-Israel activist who has risen to become a leading figure in the global lawfare movement—a worldwide campaign to erode Israel’s international standing through the misuse of the language and mechanisms of international law, with the goal of blunting Israel’s ability to defend itself by putting the country on notice that any measures taken against terrorists based among civilians will be put under an international microscope.
By 2009, Baars already had a disturbing track record of extreme hostility against Israel. Because of the sensitive nature of her position, OHCHR must have examined her resume and conducted a basic Google search, all of which would have revealed her prejudice and made it clear that prosecuting Israelis in international courts was essentially her life’s dream. In other words, that she was the very opposite of the impartial, neutral, and objective member of the secretariat envisioned under the UN Charter.
Baars’ prejudice was not only legal or academic in nature. She clearly saw herself as akin to the young radicals of the “International Solidarity Movement,” ready to undertake militant or stealthy action to confront or evade the Israeli occupiers. In a 2007 public forum message which also shows her personal contempt for Israel, Baars offers tips on how travelers with something to hide might pass through Israeli security. After having her laptop confiscated at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, she advised, “Don’t take your laptop. If you do, make sure it’s clear of anything you don’t want (fill in the blank) to see.” The words “fill in the blank” are her own.
In a 2008 message, Baars advised a freelance photojournalist on how to enter blockaded Gaza, suggesting he “get a ride” with one of the Free Gaza boats, which were successfully running the Israeli blockade at the time, or “try the tunnels” that run beneath the Gaza border with Egypt, through which terror networks smuggle weapons.
But Baars is at her most sardonic and anti-colonial in another 2008 response to a forum user seeking a “proper Western-style gym” in the Palestinian city of Ramallah. “What’s a ‘proper, Western-style gym’?” she asks. “Something like ‘proper, Western-style democracy’?? Anyway, I’m sure/hope you didn’t mean to offend—there are lots of nice gyms in Ramallah, like Downtown, Oxygen, and Tri Fitness, and if you adjust your words/attitude you might even make some A-rab friends there.”
An email Baars sent to her activist colleagues as the Gaza conflict unfolded in December 2008—the war she would later investigate for the Goldstone Commission—preemptively declared that Israel was conducting a “massacre” in the territory and ranted about Israeli “lies we have to fight.”
Baars sent the email after receiving a purportedly leaked copy of guidelines for pro-Israeli spokespeople responding to questions about the incursion. “These are the lies we have to fight to end the massacre in Gaza,” her email says. “This has been leaked from sources in Washington DC. Please study this and prepare a response as defiantly yet respectfully as you can do. This is easy to trash, but do so in a civil manner please. Outrage is our weapon, but respect is our salvation.”
Similar partisanship was evident in the many anti-Israel workshops she helped organize as a legal advisor in Jerusalem to the radical and pro-Palestinian Swedish development group Diakonia. In one lawfare briefing for activist attorneys, her powerpoint presentation celebrated the numerous “opportunities” to prosecute Israeli soldiers or officials, because, after all, Israelis were responsible for a “war crime a minute.” With undisguised glee, Baars concluded, “See you in Court!”
In another powerpoint for European diplomats, Baars emphasized that the Palestinian Authority has no legal power to make concessions that, in her view, would “sign away” obligations or rights.
It was also as Diakonia’s representative that she traveled to Gaza to meet with key Palestinian contacts. Among them was reported Hamas official Dr. Maher Al-Huli, the “Faculty of Sharia & Law Dean” at the Gaza-based Islamic University. The New York Times called this institution “one of the prime means for Hamas to convert Palestinians to its Islamist cause” and the reported site of a Hamas arms cache during Hamas’ 2007 fight with its Palestinian rival, Fatah. Indeed, because Diakonia made submissions to the probe, Baars’ pre-2009 employment with the group may even have constituted a legal conflict of interest for her as an inquiry official.
It seems clear that throughout this time, Baars was playing a leadership role in the global lawfare movement. In July 2008, for example, she met with the head the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Raji Sourani—perhaps the leading proponent of lawfare. (This the same Sourani who had been brought to London by Baars’ colleague on the Goldstone staff, Sareta Ashraph.) Their meeting focused on an ambitious upcoming conference in Brussels aimed at organizing and training Palestinian and European activist lawyers in how to conduct the “pursuit of Israeli war criminals” through “joint action in international courts.”
Organized by Diakonia’s Jerusalem office—meaning Baars—the conference took place in September 2008 under the name “Palestine/Israel: Making Monitoring Work: (Re-) Enforcing International Law in Europe.” The event was a major gathering of some of the world’s top activists and lawyers in the anti-Israel lawfare movement, and was designed to mobilize, network, and share best practices. It was Baars’ signal accomplishment.
Indeed, many of Baars’ Diakonia workshops were pure lawfare endeavors, training activists in how to isolate Israel or Israeli interests internationally, building human rights cases against Israeli soldiers and officials, as well as companies doing business in the settlements. She also lobbied European governments to endorse her boycott and lawfare campaigns.
In her “war-crime-a-minute” presentation, Baars ironically suggested that the dearth of prosecutions to date resulted from international bias in favor of Israel. “Courts don’t necessarily dispense justice,” she said. And at least one forum included a discussion of the “rights” of “armed resistance” groups in relation to the “siege.”
And even while a member of the UN inquiry staff, Baars showed overt disregard for objectivity by signing a petition backing an anti-Israel campaign called the “Toronto Declaration.” Bearing names that included familiar activist celebrities Jane Fonda and Danny Glover, as well as anarchist academic Noam Chomsky, the September 2, 2009 declaration protested the Toronto International Film Festival’s “celebratory spotlight” on Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city. It also referred to the Israeli government as an “apartheid regime” that operates a “propaganda machine.” OHCHR appeared to be unconcerned about Baars’ endorsement of such claims.
Baars’ ongoing activism—after the inquiry, for example, she openly served as a key contact person for the May 2010 flotilla that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza—suggests that, rather than a fair assessment of the Gaza conflict, weakening Israel was one of her preferred outcomes of the report.
There seems to be little doubt that, for Baars, working on the Goldsone Report was a dream come true. All of her hard work at Diakonia, her visits to Hamas-linked activists in Gaza, her lobbying of European diplomats to sanction Israel, her global conference to orchestrate universal jurisdiction cases against Israelis, all of this was going to pay off in a colossal UN report. Her dream was suddenly within reach, and it would be published under the name of an ostensibly pro-Israel Jew. She could not have asked for anything more. Her experience writing chapters of the Goldstone Report was so impactful that she dedicated her PhD thesis to, among others, Richard Goldstone and chief-of-staff Marotta, “those fighting for a better world each in their own particularly heroic and inspiring way.”
She certainly did everything she could to ensure success. Given Baars’ immense on-the-ground experience and credentials with Palestinian and international lawfare activists, along with her substantial legal writing experience, she was arguably the most influential behind-the-scenes member of the Goldstone probe. As a front-line researcher with the inquiry, she was responsible for being a first point-of-contact for many of the witnesses giving testimony. As such, she was in a position to prioritize incoming evidence, a critical responsibility that a truly objective inquiry would assign only to a truly impartial expert. Clearly, Baars was anything but. Not surprisingly, many of the NGO lawfare groups from her 2008 conference were featured prominently as evidentiary sources in the Goldstone Report.
Beyond what it says about the credibility of the Goldstone Report, Baars’ involvement raises serious questions about the impartiality of OHCHR, which filled the inquiry’s secretariat with a mixture of its own staffers and outside hires. Why has it refused to reveal the make-up of the secretariat, leaving the public in the dark except for a few names that have inadvertently leaked out?
There seems no question that Goldstone was duped. He never suspected that OHCHR, the UN agency in charge of providing him with professional staff support, had quietly embedded one of the world’s top anti-Israel lawfare strategists into the team. After all, only four years before, Goldstone had worked on another UN inquiry on oil-for-food. In that case, he was supported by a highly professional staff based in New York, with most if not all of them lawyers and experts hired from the outside. Goldstone assumed the Gaza inquiry would be the same.
But it was not the same. The culture of the Geneva-based OHCHR secretariat is known to be far more anti-American, anti-colonial, and anti-Israel than the one in New York. In his naiveté, Goldstone was blind to the prejudice and political agenda of his own bureaucracy. Indeed, there is not the slightest indication that Goldstone had any knowledge of Baars’ extremist activism. But OHCHR knew—and that is why they hired her.
On March 23, what for six months was the Schabas Commission, and now in its final and seventh month has become the McGowan Davis Commission, will present its report to the Human Rights Council. Do we have any reason to expect a fair, objective, and credible report?
Not if we consider the built-in prejudice of the commission’s founding mandate, spelled out in resolution S-21/1 of July 23, 2014, which preemptively declares Israel guilty. It condemns the Jewish state “in the strongest terms,” citing “widespread, systematic, and gross violations of international human rights,” “the targeting of civilians and civilian properties” as a form of “collective punishment contrary to international law,” “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks,” “grave violations of the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population,” and “military aggressions.” The resolution mentions Israel 18 times. Hamas is not mentioned once.
Not if we consider that Schabas, the activist chairman who says that he “devoted several months of work” to the project, is someone who performed undisclosed paid legal work for the PLO—on the subject of how to prosecute Israelis in international courts—and who famously declared barely three years ago that the leader he most wants to see in the dock at the International Criminal Court is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And—as the cautionary tale of lawfare general Grietje Baars as the key author of the original Goldstone Report makes clear—not if we consider the outsized role played by OHCHR in compiling the evidence, processing submissions, and picking the people to draft the report’s chapters and conclusions. Everything we now know about how OHCHR engineered the travesty of the original Goldstone Report indicates that Goldstone II will suffer the same politically-motivated fate.
In fact, the OHCHR’s bias was manifest from day one in their agency chief’s farcical selection of Schabas—of all the law professors in the world—to lead the inquiry. OHCHR knew that, a few months earlier, he had been rejected by a committee of five ambassadors for a similar UN mandate to investigate Israel—on the grounds that he lacked impartiality. Georgetown Law School professor Christine Cerna, herself a one-time UN candidate, has stated that Schabas was chosen specifically because of his well-known positions against Israel. Even Aryeh Neier, a colleague of Schabas at Sciences Po in Paris, founder of Human Rights Watch, and an NGO icon known as a defender of the UN, said of Schabas, “any judge who had previously called for the indictment of the defendant would recuse himself.” The same OHCHR that recruited Grietje Baars to staff Goldstone I chose Schabas to head Goldstone II.
What do we know so far about the actual staff members of Goldstone II? As in 2009, OHCHR refuses to respect the principle of transparency by revealing who is on the staff, even though this is common practice elsewhere; for example, the UN’s 2005 oil-for-food report.
I have seen this bias with my own eyes. When I met with the Schabas Commission on September 17, 2014 to personally hand them a written demand for Schabas’ recusal, there were only two staff members in the room, both of them from OHCHR’s Arab section, known as Middle East and North Africa: One was Frej Fenniche, a Tunisian who was a spokesman for the UN’s notoriously anti-Semitic Durban conference on racism in 2001. The other was Sara Hammood, a former spokesperson for the UN’s most anti-Israel committee. Hamood also worked as a “policy advisor on Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory” for Oxfam Novib, where she wrote one-sided reports and joined others in critical statements against Israel. This was the initial staff of OHCHR, who were presumably involved in hiring the others.
The current staff—Schabas has mentioned that it is composed of “a dozen specialists”—includes Karin Lucke, OHCHR’s former coordinator of the Arab region team, and now listed as working for the UN in New York. Amnesty notes that the current team includes OHCHR staff from “Geneva, Ramallah, and the Gaza Strip.” According to Geneva sources familiar with the probe, a number of the staff members are from the Arab world.
In summary, there is every reason to suspect that OHCHR has manipulated the staffing for Goldstone II just as it did in 2009.
Will Judge Mary McGowan Davis, the new chair of the inquiry, fulfill her responsibility and exercise maximum due diligence to ensure the impartiality of her staff, double check and verify everything handed to her by OHCHR and its hires, all of the evidence, analysis, and findings of fact and law?
As the daughter of the late Judge Carl McGowan, the renowned former head of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit—who in 1973 ordered President Nixon to turn over disputed White House tape recordings made after the Watergate break-in—McGowan Davis must have acquired a strong sense of justice and courage.
The report that she will produce in three weeks’ time, and that now bears her name, will be the most famous and lasting moment of her professional life. This is her chance to live up to her father’s legacy.