Head of UN inquiry into Gaza war resigns over Israeli allegations of bias
Israeli allegations over consultancy work he did for the PLO behind decision to step down, William Schabas says.
The head of a United Nations Human Rights Commission inquiry into last summer’s conflict between Israel and Gaza said he would resign following Israeli allegations of bias due to consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Canadian academic William Schabas was appointed last August by the head of the UN Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into alleged war crimes during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters on Monday, Schabas said he will resign immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March.
The Schabas committee started investigating the events of Operation Protective Edge already in August. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response that the UN Human Rights committee has long become the “Terrorists’ rights committee” and the results of its “investigations” are known in advance.
“If any other evidence of this was needed, appointing the committee’s chairman, whose biased opinions and positions against Israel are well known, proves beyond all doubt that Israel cannot expect justice and that the committee’s report has already been written,” the Foreign Ministry said at the time.
Israel denied the inquiry panel’s members entry in November, when they asked to travel through Israel to the Gaza Strip. But despite the decision not to cooperate officially with the committee, Israel will maintain indirect contact with it, Haaretz has learned.
Israel is expected to pass on to the committee documents outlining its position regarding the war in Gaza and testimonies indicating that Hamas had committed war crimes, such as using civilians as human shields and terror organizations’ firing near UN facilities.
In an interview with the Israeli Channel 2, Schabas declined to categorize Hamas as a terrorist organization, saying “it would not be fair for me to answer that question. We need to start with a blank page and investigate the issue in the most neutral and objective way possible.”
Questioned about statements he had made in the past that could be construed as being anti-Israel, Schabas said: “I can promise you that I am not anti-Israel, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions about some of the people in Israeli governments over the years.
“The statements were made in a specific context and that’s how they should be seen. I have been to Israel several times. I have lectured at universities and I’m on the editorial board of an Israeli journal. I wouldn’t have done those things if I was anti-Israel.”
The commission established to inquire into the Gaza war is to submit its report to the UNHRC in Geneva in March 2015. According to a statement released by the UNHRC council, its mandate is: “To investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June, 2014.”
The commission is also “to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults.”