Summary: The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development is a Montreal-based NGO dedicated to the advancement of the ideals set forth in the United Nations International Bill of Human Rights. In practice, this organization pursues a strong anti-Israel political agenda

Introduction

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development is a Montreal-based NGO dedicated to the advancement of the ideals set forth in the United Nations International Bill of Human Rights. The ICHRDD was founded by an Act of the Canadian Parliament, and annually receives over C$4 million from the Canadian government[1]. It presents itself, however, as an independent organization. The Parliamentary mandate of the ICHRDD puts the organization in a position of considerable influence.

The ICHRDD's activities are defined in its mission statement and the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development Act (1985). According to the mission statement[2], the Centre "promotes, advocates and defends the democratic and human rights set out in the International Bill of Human Rights. In cooperation with civil society and governments in Canada and abroad, Rights & Democracy initiates and supports programmes to strengthen laws and democratic institutions, principally in developing countries."

The ICHRDD Act of 1985[3] states:

The objects of the Centre are to initiate, encourage and support cooperation between Canada and other countries in the promotion, development and strengthening of democratic and human rights institutions and programs that give effect to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights, including, among those rights,

  • the right to an adequate standard of living;

  • the rights of persons not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

  • the rights of freedom of opinion or expression; and

  • the right to vote and be elected at periodic, genuine elections in pluralistic political systems."

This focus on human rights and democracy in developing areas has prompted a number of statements and programs directed at or involving Israel, the territories and the Palestinian Authority. Although the ICHRDD has a legitimate mandate to promote human rights and democracy beyond the 'green line', the organization's decisions on funding and support as well as its public statements reveal pre-determined political positions that demonstrate a clear bias and go far beyond its mandate. As will be demonstrated below, the ICHRDD engages in a public relations campaign that often repeats the claims and uses the language of radical Palestinian groups.

Funding Activities

The mission statement and aims of the ICHRDD give the organization a legitimate concern regarding human rights issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian Authority is a prime subject of the ICHRDD's campaign to promote the strengthening of democratic institutions in developing areas because of its weak government. Thanks to this its mission, the organization has approved funding grants for a number of projects in the territories. Although these projects have a theoretical potential to further the organization's stated ends, in practice ICHRDD uses millions of dollars of public Canadian funds to further a strong anti-Israel agenda.

The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group

The ICHRDD has historically provided funding for the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, an NGO established in 1996 to "end human rights violations committed against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem regardless of those responsible." According to the ICHRDD, the PHRMG has a reputation for the "politically neutral application of internationally accepted human rights principles."

The ICHRDD's funding was used to establish the 'Settler Watch Hotline' to allow Palestinians to report "illegal activity by settlers." While it might be argued that this issue falls broadly within the ICHRDD's mandate, it is clearly highly political in nature and closely linked to the context of warfare and terrorism in the region. By focusing on the settlement issue, and stripping away the context, such activities constitute a gross distortion of human rights principles.

International Women's House, Hares

More recently, the ICHRDD has provided funding for the establishment of an 'International Women's House' in Hares. The house, a project of the 'International Women's Peace Service," was established "to train women from the international community to witness, monitor, document and publicize human rights abuses; [to] peacefully intervene to prevent such abuses from taking place; and [to] support the growth in non-violent resistance to the military occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza."

Like the PHRMG, the objects of the IWH are theoretically consistent with the ICHRDD's mission and objects. Both projects, however, presume Israeli military activity to be the greatest - indeed, the only - threat to human rights in the territories. The projects make no attempt to address the most basic human rights abuses by Palestinians towards Israelis and makes no reference to the Palestinian terrorist activity that has provoked an Israeli military presence in the Palestinian areas. Furthermore, the report makes no suggestion of Palestinian responsibility for the amelioration of the situation in the territories. In contrast, the funding decisions of the ICHRDD suggest an institutional attitude that holds Israel solely responsible for the arrested state of human rights and democratic development in the territories.

Public Statements

The tacit institutional bias reflected in ICHRDD's funding decisions is obvious from a quick glance at also evident in the group's public statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ICHRDD's public relations activity suggests 'solutions' to the crisis that not only pre-judge the most contentious issues on a political and ideological basis, but represent an approach more radical than any proposed by the United Nations or the frameworks of the Oslo or 'Road Map' peace processes.

In October 2000, shortly after the outbreak of Palestinian violence, the ICHRDD issued a press release[4] endorsing the Sharm el-Sheik agreements but labeling those agreements insufficient to address "all the human rights issues that rest at the heart of the conflict." The statement went on to enumerate these issues, citing "Israeli control of over 60% of land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories"; Israeli restrictions of Palestinian "control and access to their own land" through "land seizures, house demolitions and restrictions on social and economic development"; the detention of Palestinians by Israel and the alleged denial of due process; and so on. the terminology and tone of these statements reflect radical Palestinian and one-sided positions and assertions, and do not in any way reflect an independent and balanced analysis of the conflict.

The only potential reference to Palestinian terror in the release was an ambiguous statement of moral equivalence: "Rights & Democracy condemns all violence by all actors in Israel and the Occupied Territories, including territories under the Palestinian National Authority." A call for "those responsible for lynching Israeli soldiers [to] be brought to justice" was followed immediately by an allegation of "excessive and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli military."

The statement ends with a series of demands, including:

  • the end of Israeli occupation in the Occupied Territories, including East Jersusalem;

  • the establishment of a Palestinian state with sovereignty over borders and natural resources; [and]

  • the right of return for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced into exile since 1948."

These demands present definitive one-sided partisan positions on issues that, according to the Oslo Accords and the United Nations, are to be addressed only by a final and negotiated settlement between the parties. By making such issues central to their understanding of the conflict, and by adopting such extreme positions on both, the ICHRDD pre-judges the outcome of negotiations and displays a fundamental political bias which undermines their purported political neutrality.

In an open letter to Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham in April, 2002[5], the ICHRDD's bias is made even more explicit. Calling for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force, the organization repeats its demand for the "full withdrawal of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. We believe that the Israeli occupation is the root cause of the Palestinian crisis," the letter continues (emphasis added). This all too common distortion of history ignores the terror and rejection of Israel long before the 1967 war and "occupation", and is evidence of indicates a fundamental political position that exploits "human rights" as a vehicle. Again, Palestinian terrorist activity and the basic human rights of Israelis are hardly mentioned beyond a call for the Palestinian Authority to "do everything in its power to apprehend those who are responsible."

The organization repeats its radical proposed solutions to the conflict by calling for "the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from all occupied territories." This is matched with demands that Palestinians not be 'pressured' to "accept Israeli control over the strategic areas of these territories," as well as the suggestion that "Arab states and the Palestinian people recognize the right of Israel to exist within the 1948 boundaries." Once again, there is no mention of Israel's right to security and to the Palestinian responsibility to end terrorism and violence.

Conclusion

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents a number of opportunities for the ICHRDD to advance its mission and objects. The primary obstacle to the development of human rights and democratic institutions in the territories is the activity of terrorist organizations whose aims threaten the most basic human rights of Israelis and Palestinians. A successful application of its mission and objects would see the ICHRDD monitor and condemn all human rights violations in the region, devoid of blatant political and ideological agendas. This means a refusal to engage in moral equivalence in the interest of nominal neutrality, and employ a constant consideration of human rights abuses by Palestinians and Israelis alike. The ICHRDD fails to meet even the lesser criterion. In both its funding decisions and its public statements, the organization shows an almost-total disregard for the terrorist activities of Palestinian groups against Israelis, as well as the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority and the terrorist groups against Palestinians. Moreover, the ICHRDD takes radical and explicitly partisan positions on political issues that are widely understood to be the subject of permanent-status negotiations between the parties. As a consequence, the ICHRDD not only fails to fulfill its mandate with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also undermines its status as an objective and responsible representative of Canadian civil society in all of its many and worthwhile endeavors.