On February 25, 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the bureaucratic arm of the Human Rights Council, presented an update on the 2019 Commission of Inquiry into the violence along the Israel-Gaza border. As with previous UN pseudo-investigations on Israel, this COI ignored legal standards and readily and publicly available information to accuse Israel of “war crimes” and other violations. The 2020 update continued to promote this false narrative and the biased HRC agenda.
Notably, the fact that the debate did not take place under the HRC’s Agenda Item 7 – the only agenda item dedicated to singling out a specific country, Israel. Instead, due to Palestinian political maneuvers to circumvent the European refusal to participate in sessions under the notorious and discriminatory Agenda Item 7, OHCHR moved the debate to Item 2. The fact that OHCHR acquiesced to this political exploitation rather than comply with its mandate, as described under HRC Resolution 5/1, is another example why donors should rethink their funding of this UN agency.
During the debate, the Assistant Secretary General, acting on behalf of OHCHR, repeatedly referred to “Israeli security forces” as perpetrators of violations, while ignoring the role of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian armed groups in directing the Gaza riots. She falsely claimed that the riots are “civilian in nature” and “do not constitute combat or military campaigns,” and that it was “disturbing” that the IDF did not consider them as distinct from “the armed conflict with Gaza.”
These comments display significant ignorance of the facts and the law by the COI and OHCHR. As seen in evidence provided by NGO Monitor and others, the riots were clearly organized under a Hamas command and control structure and aimed at breaching the border to commit armed attacks on Israeli forces and civilian communities. In addition, per the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 37, demonstrations that incite others or are based on violent intentions can in no way be considered peaceful and loses protection under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Furthermore, anyone directly participating in hostilities may be targeted legally with lethal force.
The UN official also attacked Israel’s justice system in her remarks. She claimed that, while Israel conducted some investigations into alleged violations, “few resulted in convictions and indictments,” as if that is the proper metric by which to measure the integrity of investigations or of a justice system. This comment suggests, that like the COI report, OHCHR lacks the expertise to provide meaningful guidance on rule of law, criminal justice, or investigations in armed conflict.
In addition, the Assistant Secretary General mentioned that “one girl” had been killed by Palestinians in the past year, omitting the fact that this 17-year-old girl, Rina Schnerb, was murdered in a bombing that also injured in brother and father and was perpetrated by a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror cell. A number of the terrorists currently standing trial for Schnerb’s murder were employed by or were officials in so-called “human rights” NGOs at the time of the attack. The UN official also did not mention that several UN agencies fund and cooperate with these terror-linked NGOs.
At the debate, NGOs including Al-Haq, Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, and Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) made speeches referring to claims of “excessive use of force” by Israel and calling for “pressure by third states” and the opening of an ICC investigation. At least two of these NGOs have ties to armed groups operating in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Institute for NGO Research, NGO Monitor’s parent organization, also spoke at the debate, highlighting the bias of the COI and its lack of adherence to the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 37.