On July 25, 2018, the UN Human Rights Council appointed three individuals to serve as members of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into what has been predetermined to be Israel’s “military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests” along the Gaza border. The COI is the result of a biased UNHRC Resolution (S-28/1), which condemned “the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests.”
The three members of the COI – David Michael Crane of the US, Sara Hossain of Bangladesh, and Kaari Betty Murungi of Kenya – all have experience in leading UN inquiries, including on Sierra Leone, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Rwanda.
Past COIs on the Arab-Israeli conflict, such as the 2009 “Goldstone Report” and the 2014 “Schabas-Davis Commission,” relied almost entirely on unverified or false claims made by a narrow group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). As the 2017 State Department Human Rights report on Israel acknowledges, “In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations.”
In addition, as noted, the COI’s mandate singles out Israel, and the Commission will be working with the secretive Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. In order to avoid the mistakes made by their predecessors, the Commission should consult a wide-variety of source material, conduct all activities in a transparent and documented manner, employ identified legal and military experts, and closely scrutinize all NGO submissions for compliance with international fact-finding standards.
David Michael Crane
A law professor at Syracuse University, Crane served as a legal adviser to the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai in the 1980s, as well as was the founding chief prosecutor (2002-2005) of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international war crimes tribunal. Crane was responsible for 13 indictments, including of then President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.
Crane is critical of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In October 2013, Crane testified in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee about “how to prosecute war crimes and the crimes committed against humanity during the Syrian civil war.” He discussed the various mechanisms that could be used to try Syria, stating that a Syrian domestic court system was the preferred method. Crane noted that the ICC “lacks the capability and the political and diplomatic sophistication to handle such a mandate.” According to Crane, “we have come to realize that the future of modern international criminal law is not with the ICC but with domestic legal systems.”
During the 2014 Gaza war, Crane was further critical of the ICC. In response to the call for the ICC to become involved in an inquiry of the 2014 Gaza war, Crane stated “I think the ICC needs to stay out of this process for now…It does not have the diplomatic sophistication to wade into the dismal swamp of Middle East peace.” Regarding the upcoming COI, Crane stated that the investigation will be conducted “fairly and with an open mind with no preconceived positions or perspectives.”
In 2006, following Israel’s military operations in Lebanon and Gaza in response to three Israeli soldiers being abducted by Hezbollah and Hamas, Crane said, “Every nation has a right to defend its citizens…but you must launch an attack in a proportional way and can’t cause unnecessary suffering for civilians… Israel tends toward disproportional responses, which just fuel further anger [in the region].” This sentiment was echoed during the 2009 Gaza war, following Israeli troops responding to militant motor fire which killed 42 people including Hamas militants, when Crane asked “Did they know there were 42 human beings there, or did they just know they were being fired upon?”
Sara Hossain is a Bangladeshi lawyer who has been involved in “supporting human rights litigation before national and international courts including the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee on the use of international and comparative human rights law.” In 2016, Hossain was chosen to be an independent expert “in support of the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to focus on issues of accountability for human rights violations in the country, in particular where such violations amount to crimes against humanity.” Until 2015, Hossain was the Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists.
In 2010, Hossain was signatory to a letter questioning Amnesty International’s partnership with CAGE – a group that campaigned for the release of convicted terrorists, such as Anwar al-Awlaki who was involved in the 9/11 attacks. The letter was in response to Amnesty’s suspension of its employee, Gita Saghal, who publicized the organization’s partnership with CAGE and its spokesman Moazzam Begg – an alleged Taliban supporter who supports the idea of “jihad in self-defense.” The letter Hossain signed argued that Amnesty’s partnership with CAGE has the “potential to seriously undermine AI’s commitment to the principles of equality.” In response to the letter, Amnesty stated that “jihad in self-defense” is not “antithetical to human rights.”
Kaari Betty Murungi
Murungi is a Kenyan lawyer who has served as an “acknowledged expert consultant on matters of transitional justice and human rights for national, regional and international governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as multilateral bodies.” Since 1999, Murungi has been a Legal advisor for the Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, mandated to “ensure that crimes against women are adequately investigated and prosecuted in the United Nations ad hoc tribunals, national hybrid tribunals and at the International Criminal Court (ICC).” In 2006, Murungi worked as a UN consultant at the Rwanda Supreme Court to provide training on international criminal law. Murungi is also the vice-chairperson of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).1
- KHRC is a member of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). FIDH, which is funded by multiple European governments, is a major leader of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns worldwide. The group, composed of 178 member organizations, supported campaigns including the BDS campaign against Orange (2015), promoted the EU product labeling guidelines, and participated in the NGO campaign at the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry targeting Israel following the 2014 Gaza War.