The Goldstone "Fact Finding" Mission and the Role of Political NGOs
- The UN fact-finding mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, was established at the Ninth Special Session of the Human Rights Council (January 2009), to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
- In addition to a one-sided mandate and composition, many of the witnesses chosen to provide testimony in hearings held in Gaza and Geneva were officials from radical NGOs with long histories of anti-Israel campaigning – including Al Haq, the Alternative Information Center (AIC), and the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP).
- Human Rights Watch played a central role in the formation of the Mission, and in promoting the anti-Israel bias. The appointment of Goldstone, who was a member of HRW’s board and made numerous statements in support of HRW’s campaigns on Israel, reinforced this link. A number of HRW “research reports” were published during this period in order to provide more ammunition to Goldstone and his colleagues.
- Lack of transparency. The process and criteria for the selection of witnesses are completely hidden, some witnesses were not included on the public list, and despite repeated assurances from UN officials that written submissions would be available on the UN’s website, as of September 5, 2009 they had not been posted.
- The NGO submissions to the Commission, including from Diakonia and the International Commission of Jurists, consisted largely of emotive and anecdotal remarks, pseudo-legal and –technical rhetoric, and tendentious and irrelevant conclusions.
- The GCMHP representative “testified” that “[w]e look in general to the Israelis as demons, that we can hate them. What we do is a reaction…But we, the Palestinians have a greater capacity in my view to deal with the Israelis as equal human beings.” He also used Nazi rhetoric.
- Seven political Israeli NGOs, funded by European governments and the NIF, submitted a joint statement, unsupported by credible evidence, claiming that Israel acted “punitive[ly]” and “deliberately and knowingly shelled civilian institutions.”
- Although the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is not listed among the witnesses, PCHR’s website claims to have provided the Commission with 75 minutes of testimony. PCHR was the logistical coordinator of the Arab League’s flawed Gaza investigation, and its publications consistently lack credibility and use the façade of research.
- In each of these aspects, the Goldstone Mission has violated the London-Lund guidelines for fact-finding committees, including objectivity, transparency, neutrality, and professionalism.
- The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called on the Security Council to appoint the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel “if the Goldstone investigation does point to possible war crimes.”
The Goldstone Gaza Fact-Finding Committee and the Lund-London Guidelines The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, was established in January 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), following intense lobbying by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, and the network of NGOs that works closely with these groups.
The mission was given a clearly biased mandate, calling for an investigation into “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip” (emphasis added)1. This mandate does not cover crimes committed by Hamas or other Palestinian actors. (See below for more analysis of the mandate, and various claims related to this issue.) On this basis, and as has been the case with similar UN-mandated and one sided “commissions of inquiry,” including in 2002 regarding events in Jenin, the Israeli government refused to cooperate with this process.
Similarly, the members of this commission of inquiry are partial, as has been documented in detail (see note 5). As the following report demonstrates, these biases have been reinforced and extended by the close involvement of political NGOs, as well as the close relationship between Judge Goldstone and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The evidence submitted by these NGOs, and the nature of the impartial relationship and stated prejudices of the commission members are in clear violation of the London-Lund Guidelines, adopted in June 2009 by the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. The guidelines specify norms for the composition of such inquiries and appropriate methodologies, including “accuracy, objectivity, transparency and credibility.”2
In particular, the London-Lund guidelines state:
- Reports must be clearly objective and properly sourced, and the conclusions in them reached in a transparent manner. … In making their findings the delegation should try to verify alleged facts with an independent third party or otherwise. Where this is not possible, it should be noted.
- The terms of reference must not reflect any predetermined conclusions about the situation under investigation.
- The mission’s delegation must comprise individuals who are and are seen to be unbiased. The NGO should be confident that the delegation members have the competence, experience and expertise relevant to the matters pertaining to the terms of reference.3
Many aspects of the Goldstone panel, including its mission statement, members, and collection of testimony failed to meet these fundamental ethical standards. In contrast to the Guidelines, the inquiry was flawed from the outset, lacked transparency in many aspects of its work, and the NGO submissions lacked objectivity and proper sourcing.
Richard Goldstone and HRW’s Agenda
Judge Goldstone was a member of Human Rights Watch ’s (HRW) board when appointed, and only later resigned . (In the controversy over HRW’s publications during the 2006 Lebanon war, Goldstone published a defense of this organization.) During the fighting in Gaza, all of the members of the commission made prejudicial statements, in violation of the London-Lund guidelines.4
A number of politicized NGOs, and HRW in particular, played a major role in the creation of the fact finding committee, its mission, and its composition. Since 2001, HRW has consistently campaigned for the appointment of “independent” international committees or experts to “investigate” allegations against Israel. (This is a recurring theme for HRW; NGO Monitor has counted over 50 such statements, including in relation to the 2002 Defensive Shield operation – particularly in Jenin – and the 2006 Lebanon war.). During the Gaza conflict, HRW continued its agenda of campaigning for an “impartial international investigation into allegations of serious violations of the laws of war .” The appointment of Goldstone – one of “its own” – to head the inquiry strengthened HRW’s investment in this process, and the NGO even reproached US President Obama for neglecting to mention the inquiry in his Cairo speech of June 2009.
Since the end of the Gaza conflict, HRW has issued multiple pseudo-research reports alleging Israeli “violations” and “war crimes.” These narrowly focused publications (on highly contested topics: white phosphorous , drones , and white flags ) were designed to maximize the NGO’s public relations campaign, and to advance the Durban Strategy of isolating Israel, despite a complete lack of evidence and substance. After pages of irrelevant details, the claims of “war crimes” remain unproven.
Similarly, Amnesty International and the Arab League (relying almost entirely on discredited PCHR statements) issued “reports” condemning Israel for its actions during the Gaza war. Both groups promoted boycotts against Israel, revealing the politicized motives behind the publications.
Although the HRW, Amnesty and Arab League campaigns are not formally part of the Goldstone framework, they contribute to the overall effort, in line with the Durban Strategy of criminalizing Israeli military operations, to indict Israel over the Gaza conflict. The Goldstone Mission is the next step in this process.
NGO Testimony and Submissions
A central element of the Goldstone committee’s activities consisted of inviting and receiving submissions and testimony, including oral statements, at four days of public hearings (two in Gaza and two in Geneva) from NGOs and individuals (many of whom were associated with these NGOs). Although Goldstone repeatedly emphasized that the purpose of the hearings was to “give a voice to the victims,” and not “political considerations ”, the emphasis on witnesses from highly political NGOs contradicts this assertion.
Similarly, a biased UNHCHR press release reinforced the flawed process by stating that “the Mission will hear…from experts on the context and impact of the Israeli siege and military operations [in Gaza]…as well as from experts on a variety of military and legal issues” (emphasis added). (In order to create an image of balance, the commission also invited a few Israelis, including Sderot residents and Noam Shalit, the father of Gilad Shalit.)
The process and criteria by which the committee selected witnesses was far from transparent. The Commission specifically selected witnesses to appear at the “public” hearings; however, Goldstone, as well officials in Geneva, failed to respond to repeated NGO Monitor inquiries to provide any information about the selection criteria or witness list.
The Commission chose some of the most politicized and radical NGOs operating in Israel, Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority, many of which are funded by European governments, including:
- Addameer – funded by Sweden
- The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI ) – funded by New Israel Fund , Norway, Sweden, Ireland, the EU, and Oxfam-Novib
- The Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP ) – funding information unavailable
- Alternative Information Center (AIC ) – funded by Diakonia (Swedish government ), Christian Aid (Irish government ), and Sodepau (Catalan government in Spain)
- Al Haq – funded by Ford Foundation, Christian Aid , the Netherlands, Irish Aid, Norway, and Diakonia.
- The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) funded by EU, Norway, Ireland, and Denmark. (PCHR does not appear on any committee or UN list of witnesses, but according to its website , officials appeared before the Commission for 75 minutes.)
The NGO officials that were invited to present oral testimony were activists, not “experts,” and their organizations were active in promoting their ideological agendas throughout the Gaza war. (See appendix.) In addition, NGO Monitor is aware that the Commission also held secret hearings in Geneva and possibly in Gaza. The full extent of NGO participation, therefore, remains hidden, as do other aspects of this highly non-transparent process.
As seen in the following selections of their testimony, these NGO officials generally provided unverifiable accusations, pseudo-legal rhetoric, and highly biased statements, all of which violate the London-Lund Guidelines. “Testimonies” were often limited to generalities or focused on a single incident, followed by very broad conclusions. Although these organizations do not include professional military experts, their officials repeatedly expressed judgments that required military knowledge.
GCMHP (Dr. Ahmed Abu-Tawahina, Dr. Iyyad El-Sarraji) Gaza City, June 29, 2009
- “During the first Intifada the Israeli military institution tried to build rifles that would throw stones at the children, but they realized this was in vain. So they resorted to killing and violent killing…This very clearly shows that the instability the psychological instability with the Israeli soldier has accumulated fear in him, has deprived him of this ‘halo’ feeling that he had over the years, and that now he wants to restore this lost image.”
- “We look in general to the Israelis as demons, that we can hate them. What we do is a reaction, and we say that the Israelis can only understand the language of power. The same thing that we say about the Israelis, they say about us – that we only understand the language of violence or force. But we, the Palestinians have a greater capacity in my view to deal with the Israelis as equal human beings as a whole human being.”
- “…inside Israel there is an identification with the aggressor, the Nazis.”
Addameer (Sahar Francis, director) Geneva, July 7, 2009
- “They…were used as human body shields for almost nine days in the conflict areas in Gaza Strip.”
- “The main purpose of these policies of the imprisonment was to broke the soul of the resistance in the Palestinian people against the occupation.”
- “The Israelis were launching mass arrest campaigns through the years and using the imprisonment as collective punishment policy against the Palestinian people.”
- “They are using the prisoners and using the policy of the collective punishment against the Palestinian prisoners in order to put political pressure on the Palestinian side in the issue of the exchange.”
PCATI (Majd Badr, lawyer) Geneva, July 7, 2009
- “The establishment of a ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Professor Daniel Friedman, the minister of justice at the time…was mandated to investigate the possibility of making the conditions of the detention of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with the conditions of detention of soldier Gilad Shalit. Of course you do not need to be told that this is unacceptable collective punishment.”
- “I want to tell you what a prisoner told me, a Palestinian prisoner told me that during he was detained in Gaza there were two corpses of martyrs that have fell and this prisoner said I want to go to the toilet…The soldier answered him, look to those two corpses and if you want to go to the toilet then you will become like them.”
AIC (Shir Hever, economist, video testimony) Geneva, July 6, 2009
- “Because it was seen that in fact the international community no longer a barrier in front of Israeli society, then it was expected that Israel would be allowed to get away with even worse acts of violence, even worse violations of human rights.”
- “I am referring to the use of phosphorous ammunition…Israeli soldiers testified that they used Lau missiles, which are in fact anti-tank missiles, and they used it against apartments where they saw people in the windows…So the use of phosphorous ammunition by itself is perhaps a complicated legal issue, I am not an expert on international law.”
Al Haq (Shawan Jabareen, video testimony) Geneva, July 6, 2009
- “What we can judge from the beginning and until now, is that the movement restrictions are not linked to security reasons. There are political reasons behind such restrictions.”
- “They say I am dangerous for security. I don’t know how I am going to be dangerous in Geneva, and not in Ramallah. Nevertheless my personal view is that this is a form of punishment, restrictions on movement inside Israel and the occupied territories is part of the punishment used against the people…They use this as a weapon, so that one loses hope in his nation, in his land.” 5
Written NGO submissions
In addition to the hearings, the Mission also issued a Call for Submissions from “interested persons and organizations to submit relevant information and documentation that will assist in the implementation of the Mission’s mandate.” Despite repeated assurances from UN officials and Goldstone that these submissions would be available on the UN’s website, as of September 5, 2009 they had not been posted.
However, some of the NGOs made their submissions public, including a statement by seven Israel-based NGOs, and postings on the internet sites of Diakonia (Sweden) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ). In its analysis of these submissions, as in the case of the “testimonies,” NGO Monitor’s analysis shows systematic prejudicial statements.6
Statement by Israel-based NGOs
A group of Israeli NGOs – Adalah , ACRI, Gisha , HaMoked , PHR-I , PCATI and Yesh Din – submitted a written statement (June 30, 2009) which does not address alleged war crimes by Hamas, “but rather offers our own distinct perspective – human rights violations for which Israel must be held accountable” (p.3). The NGOs make entirely speculative assertions about the motivation for the IDF operation against Hamas, claiming that “[t]o the extent that this was planned as a punitive operation which main purpose was not the achievement of actual military objectives, but the inflicting of deliberate damage as a deterrent and punitive measure” – despite their lacking the requisite information in order to make such an assertion. (p.6).
The submission also accuses Israel of having “deliberately and knowingly shelled civilian institutions” which, they argue, supports the claim that “Israel deviated from the principle that allows harm only to military objectives, and carried out strikes against civilian sites in an effort to achieve political ends” (p.8). Examples of Israeli violations are often un-cited, such as the allegation that “[m]any prisoners…were held in pits in the ground…apparently dug by the army” (p.9); there is no source provided, although details are brought from “information in our possession” (p.10).
Funding for these NGOs is provided by European governments, including the European Commission, and from the New Israel Fund.
European NGOs – Diakonia and the International Commission of Jurists
Diakonia (a church-based aid organization funded by the Swedish government) and Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) both made written submissions focusing on alleged Israeli violations of international law. Diakonia submitted a brief that vilifies Israel and delegitimizes its right to defend itself against rocket attacks, while Hamas crimes are relegated to three short paragraphs on the last page of the report. The report also repeats the spurious legal claim that Israel did not act in self-defense during the conflict and claims that Israel deliberately targeted civilians, ignoring extensive evidence to the contrary.
The ICJ submission also used the rhetoric of international law, repeating the standard claims that the IDF used “disproportionate” force and that “[s]uch destruction is a grave breach of IHL that cannot be justified by military necessity” (p.9). The ICJ also “absolutely rejects” the argument that Israel cannot be considered as the “occupying power” (p.4) and accuses Israel of using “collective punishment” to “punish indiscriminately the civilian population” (p.3).
From the beginning, the campaign in the UN that led to the creation of the Goldstone fact-finding mission in Gaza was led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League, and supported by the politicized NGO network. Human Rights Watch, in particular, was active in this role, issuing numerous “research reports” to support the goal of further isolating and demonizing Israel – the Durban NGO Forum “Strategy.” In this context, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared that the Security Council should ask the International Criminal Court to investigate “war crimes” following the Goldstone inquiry.
Much of the formal work of the “fact finding” was based on further cooperation with highly politicized NGOs, who have also been promoting the Durban Strategy since 2001. Officials from many of these groups were invited to provide oral testimony and written submissions. In parallel, HRW, Amnesty, and the Arab League issued lengthy “reports,” without credible and verifiable evidence, that contributed to and reinforced the indictment directed at Israel.
Indeed, based on the anti-Israel campaigning background of these groups and excerpts from their testimonies, and with no additional information available, it appears likely that the forthcoming Mission report will add to the condemnations of Israel for actions in Gaza. And as in the reports of HRW and Amnesty, we can expect some minor reproach of Hamas, with no operative impact.
Furthermore, unless the Goldstone Mission departs radically from the NGO campaigns, as well its own mandate and composition, its report will also violate the fundamental provisions of the London-Lund guidelines for fact-finding related to human rights.
- The Mission was established at the Ninth Special Session of the Human Rights Council, which convened on January 9 and 12, 2009 to address the “Grave Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including the recent aggression in the occupied Gaza Strip .” During the session, NGO officials accused Israel of “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” “collective punishment,” “apartheid,” “massacres,” “racism,” and “genocide” (pp. 16-19). Although Goldstone and the HRC President (as well as HRW and Ken Roth) claimed in April that the mandate was amended to include violations on “all sides,” the 10th Session of the HRC in June reaffirmed the one-sided terms of the inquiry.
- There are many complexities and obstacles to fact finding in the context of asymmetric warfare and in an area controlled by a terrorist entity. While many NGOs claim to be able to provide this information, their reports generally lack credibility and are used as foundations for political and ideological campaigning, particularly in the context of the UN. As NGO Monitor has demonstrated, NGOs have followed this course in their submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture and events sponsored by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People .
- International Bar Association, Human Rights Institute, Guidelines on International Human Rights Fact-Finding Visits and Reports (“Lund-London Guidelines”), 1 June 2009, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4a39f2fa2.html [accessed 21 August 2009] p. 3
- Goldstone, Hina Jilani and Desmond Travers signed a March 2009 letter initiated by Amnesty International , stating that “events in Gaza have shocked us to the core.” Similarly, in a letter to the Times (UK), member Christine Chinkin expressed her predetermined conclusion that “Israel’s bombardment of Gaza is not self-defence – it’s a war crime .” (Goldstone attempted to defend Chinkin, distinguishing between “fact finding” and a “judicial inquiry” and asserting that he was “absolutely satisfied that she’s got a completely open mind and will not exhibit any bias one way or the other.”) See also UN Watch brief, “Request to Disqualify Prof. Christine Chinkin From UN Fact Finding Mission On The Gaza Conflict ,” August 20, 2009.
- Jabarin has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan on account of his alleged ties to the terrorist group Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
- In June, NGO Monitor made a submission to the Mission, analyzing the biases and un-sourced claims, and anti-Israel campaigns related to the Gaza war, of the NGOs that would provide testimony to Goldstone