By Jared Malsin
Chicago – Ma'an – Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, said on Monday the Palestinian Authority (PA) urged him to step down after he criticized the PA’s treatment of a UN war crimes report.
Falk confirmed reports that the joint PA-PLO mission to the UN in Geneva also delayed consideration in the UN Human Rights Council of his most recent report alleging Israeli abuses of Palestinians’ rights. Arabic-language news reports of the delay surfaced last week.
Falk said PA officials formally approached him in February asking him to resign, arguing that he is unable to carry out his responsibilities since Israel detained him at Ben Gurion International Airport and deported him in late 2008.
But, he stressed in an interview, "what they [the PA] say formally and what they say informally are quite different."
"Informally they say different things, things that are essentially untrue, that my health doesn’t me allow to do the job or that I’m a partisan of Hamas," he added.
Falk’s mandate is narrowly defined to include only the human rights record of the occupying power, Israel, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza – he does not report to the UN on the actions of the PA or the Hamas government in Gaza.
But Falk did raise hackles in Ramallah when he publicly criticized the PA for delaying UN action on judge Richard Goldstone’s report that accused Israel and Palestinian militias of committing war crimes during the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Goldstone’s report dealt with the three-week attack that left some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision, under US pressure, to delay a vote in the UN Human Rights Council on Goldstone’s report provoked a political crisis, including calls for Abbas to step down, and for the dissolution of the PA. Rights groups slammed Abbas for harming their efforts to bring accused war criminals to justice.
Now, Falk says Abbas’ men have done the same to his own report. He says the PA-appointed ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khreishah, put forward a resolution in a recent plenary session of the Human Rights Council that delayed a discussion of his own report on Israeli rights violations from March until June. The resolution passed unanimously.
Falk, a Princeton international law expert, said he is "not happy" about the PA’s actions, but has no plans to resign. "I feel that it’s very important not to succumb to this pressure...We're supposed to be independent," he added.
Although Israel has not allowed him to visit the occupied territories since his deportation, Falk says he follows up with reports by respected human rights NGOs on the ground.
He further said that, as in the case of the Goldstone report, the US and Israel could have pressured the PA into scuttling international action on his own report.
Riyad Mansour, the PLO’s ambassador to the UN in New York, said he was not aware of any official calls for Falk to resign, and was “not involved” with the decision to delay consideration of Falk’s report.
"I would check with Geneva about their reasoning," he said over the phone from New York. Mansour added that he enjoys good relations with Falk and planned to meet with him on Thursday.
Ma’an’s repeated phone calls to the Palestinian mission at the UN in Geneva were not returned.
The PA’s apparent attempt to isolate Falk has also triggered criticism from civil society.
Commentator Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, wrote that Falk "has been attacked by Israel for years. But now, in a new twist, he is being hung out to dry by the Palestinian Authority in perhaps the unkindest cut of all."
Writing for Agence Global, Hijab also reported that in February, 11 Palestinian human rights groups wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressing dismay at the PA actions toward Falk.
According to Hijab, the rights groups' letter called Falk’s reports "powerful instruments to advocate for Palestinian people’s rights."
Hijab also wrote that 19 Palestinian groups further wrote to Abbas, criticizing Falk’s treatment and “pointing out the repercussions for the Palestinians’ internationally recognized human rights.
The delay of Falk’s report also caught the attention of Hamas leaders in Gaza. On Monday, The justice minister in the Hamas-controlled government in Gaza, Muhammad Faraj Al-Ghoul, held a news conference denouncing the delay as an effort to "kill the report and give Israel a cover for its crimes."