Candidates for the UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinians, Biased Candidates for a Biased Mandate
Update: On January 24, the President of the Human Rights Council released the shortlist for this position: 1. Francesca Albanese, 2. Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, 3. Susan Akram. See below for information on each of them.
Click Here to Read NGO Monitor’s Letter to the UN Human Rights Council
The Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967” is a UN mechanism that is marred by extreme bias, selectivity, and partiality. In contrast to every other country-specific mandate that must be renewed by the UN Human Rights Council on an annual basis, the Rapporteur is the only indefinite mandate, as noted on OHCHR’s webpage, enduring “until the end of the Israeli occupation.” In addition, it is the only mandate that is manifestly selective and partial, aimed at examining alleged violations by Israel alone. Palestinian violations and systematic atrocities committed by the PA and Palestinian terror groups are expressly excluded.
According to the selection criteria for Special Rapporteur, the basic requirements for the role include knowledge of international human rights and humanitarian law, experience in the field of human rights, and credibility in advancing human rights and peace. In addition, under Human Rights Council resolution 5/1, Special Rapporteurs are required to exhibit personal integrity, expertise, independence, impartiality, and objectivity.
In contrast to these stipulations, the position of Special Rapporteur has mainly been filled by individuals with extensive histories of anti-Israel animus and who have used their platform for activism and to promote extreme hostility towards Israel, including boycott campaigns, and antisemitism. Former Rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk, and outgoing Rapporteur Michael Lynk, are responsible for promoting the apartheid slander and BDS, downplaying or erasing Palestinian terrorism, and mislabeling terror-linked NGO officials as “human rights defenders.”
In March 2022, the Human Rights Council will appoint a new Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.” In keeping with past practices, at least five of the six candidates have records of anti-Israel partisanship, and do not appear to fulfill the requirements of impartiality and objectivity as required by HRC resolution 5/1.
Candidates for the Special Rapporteur on the “situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967”
- Susan Akram
Akram is a clinical professor at the Boston University Civil Litigation Program and runs the International Human Rights Clinic, “supervising students in international advocacy in domestic, international, regional, and UN fora.”
In November 2014, Akram published an article drawing parallels between Palestinians and Holocaust victims, writing, “Using Jewish claims of Holocaust victims as precedent, Palestinians residing in third states can seek property restitution from organizations that are part of the Zionist establishment and parastatal institutions like the Jewish National Fund and banks that hold the accounts of such institutions.” In the same article, Akram claimed that “We can also view the conflict in Gaza through another lens, that of ethnic cleansing or genocide…For an act to rise to the level of genocide, the intent to destroy a group in whole or in part must be established. Many Israeli actions in Gaza and against Palestinians in general could be shown to fit such a definition” (emphasis added).
In 2000, Akram “partnered with the Badil Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights in Bethlehem, and helped establish Badil’s research program on Palestinian refugees and international law.”1 In 2015, Akram was listed as an editor on BADIL’s report “Closing Protection Gaps: Handbook on Protection of Palestinian Refugees in States Signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention.” Akram has also co-edited a book with outgoing Rapporteur Michael Lynk entitled “International Law and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: A Rights-Based Approach to Middle East Peace.” Lynk has a long history of involvement in overtly anti-Israel events, including speaking at events with BDS activists and highly political organizations and NGOs that are part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
Akram has supported the discriminatory BDS movement, and drawing false parallels to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Akram also called for the US to “take heed and challenge the unrestricted use of our tax dollars that is funding violations of Gazans’ freedom, and their right to march for their lives and dignity.”
Akram also has joined the demonization of Israel through accusations “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” and has supported a Palestinian “right of return.” In September 2017, Akram published an article on Israel’s security barrier stating that “The Wall is both a physical reality and a metaphor for the apartheid regime that Israel has established in the West Bank.” In 2012, Akram also participated in the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a mock court which put Israel and its Western allies “on trial” and promoted the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Akram also participated in a panel held by Norwegian Refugee Council on the topic of Palestinian refugees and the 1948 agenda, giving a lecture titled “Application of Norms and Rules to Achieving Justice for Palestinian Refugees: Mobilizing for Accountability and Redress.”
- Francesca Albanese
Since 2015, Francesca Albanese is an affiliate scholar at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University. According to her CV, Albanese also teaches “on the ‘humanitarian, legal and political responses to the Palestinian forced displacement’, as a nonresident Professor in several universities (Bethlehem, Birzeit, Salento).” In 2010-2012, Albanese was a legal officer for the UNRWA Department of Legal Affairs where she “led the development of a strategic framework (now an Agency policy) to promote both effective interaction between UNRWA and human rights mechanisms.” Albanese has also “been invited to give lectures on the legal aspects of the Question of Palestine to a variety of state officials, including Indonesian diplomats as part of their professional training at the Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Albanese has published articles in various anti-Israel blogs including Mondoweiss, Jadaliyya, and Middle East Monitor Online.
Since 2018, Albanese also serves as the Coordinator of the Question of Palestine Program at a Jordanian legal aid NGO, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (AARD). As coordinator, in June 2021, Albanese moderated an event titled “Israeli Apartheid Exposed: What’s Next?” featuring Human Rights Watch’s BDS activist (Israel and Palestine Country Director) Omar Shakir. In December 2021, she moderated a webinar endorsing BDS, titled “Normalization: Responses and Prevention,” which aimed to “unpack the issue of normalized relations with Israel through interventions by keynote speaker Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”
Albanese has also supported a Palestinian “right of return” and participated in a conference held by the Palestinian Return Centre on “UNRWA at 70: Responding to Crises and Building a Just Future.”2
In 2020, Albanese published Palestinian Refugees in International Law that “offers a clear and comprehensive analysis of various areas of international law and their relevance to the provision of international protection for Palestinian refugees, including current interpretations of Article 1D of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, and the various definitions of Palestinian refugees.” As part of AARD, in 2021, Albanese facilitated a course for “researchers and practitioners (UN personnel, diplomats, journalists, grassroots organizations, researchers, activists)” titled “Decades of Forced Displacement: Legal, Political and Humanitarian Responses to the Palestinian Refugee Question.”
In October 2021, Albanese stated that “the lens of ‘apartheid’ is better suited to explain the past and present reality in Israel/Palestine as well as the reason for the unattainability of peace.” She also condemned the October 2021 decision by the Israeli Ministry to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations, stating that “the targeted organizations have worked to support and protect Palestinians under Israeli occupation…the above-mentioned organizations are the last bastion of protection of the people under occupation, given the despicable inaction of the international community that remains responsible for emboldening Israel and therefore enabling the situation in Palestine to go on.”
- Michelle Burgis-Kasthala
Burgis-Kasthala directs the Edinburgh Law School’s LLM in International Human Rights Law. In 2008, Burgis-Kasthala served as a legal intern for Al-Haq,3 and contributed to the HSRC report “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law.”
Burgis-Kasthala supports BDS, including a May 2021 statement calling to “Support community efforts and legislation to pressure our governments to end funding Israeli military aggression.” The statement further committed to “Pressuring our academic institutions and organizations to respect the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel by instating measures that remove complicity and partnership with military, academic, and legal institutions involved in entrenching Israel’s policies.” In March 2021, Burgis-Kasthala was a signatory on a statement regarding the “ongoing failure of the European Union to ensure that its taxpayer-funded research programmes are not used to legitimize or otherwise sustain the establishment and the activities of Israeli academic institutions in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).” In December 2016, Burgis-Kasthala signed a statement “Defending the Right to Support BDS for Palestinian Rights.”
Burgis-Kasthala also welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel. In May 2021, Burgis-Kasthala was a signatory on a letter to then ICC Prosecutor Bensouda, writing, “The world is watching as a war crime unfolds in front of our very eyes… We call on you to urgently investigate this case within the overall investigation into related war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine, including forcible transfer, unlawful appropriation of property, crimes of apartheid, and other inhumane acts arising from these forced evictions.”
- Ralph Wilde
Ralph Wilde is an Associate Professor at UCL Faculty of Laws. In December 2021, Wilde published an article titled “Using the Master’s Tools to Dismantle the Master’s House: International Law and Palestinian Liberation.” According to the article, “In certain important respects, the starting point for international law on this subject is to accept Israeli statehood as a given. In consequence, Palestinian freedom must fit around and/or be articulated in relation to Israel’s needs… it has to be done despite the fact that it is this statehood on the part of Israel that was created through and continues to operate on the basis of the Nakba, with the consequent position of many Palestinian people as refugees, and the treatment of Palestinian people within Israel as second-class citizens” [emphasis added].
In October 2018, Wilde spoke on a panel titled “Beyond Occupation: Apartheid and Colonialism in Palestine” at a conference organized by Al-Haq, arguing that “there is a need to move beyond occupation law in order to challenge the existence of the occupation itself as violations of the right to self-determination.”
In 2018, Wilde wrote an “Expert Opinion” for the Swedish human rights NGO Diakonia on “Israel and Palestine’s overlapping obligations in international law.” The article stated, “the legal self-determination entitlement of the Palestinians requires Israel to end the occupation promptly, and whereas other areas of human rights law oblige it to secure rights in areas under its control, this does not affect Israel’s obligation to give up this control insofar as it prevents full self-administration by the Palestinians.” In December 2016, Wilde signed a statement “Defending the Right to Support BDS for Palestinian Rights.” The statement referred to the movement as a “powerful and effective global movement… aimed at pressurizing Israel to comply with international law, and at persuading other states and business enterprises to withhold all support for Israel’s violations of international law.”
- Usha Natarajan
In 2019-2020, Usha Natarajan was the Edward W Said Fellow at Columbia University. Natarajan was a signatory on a letter to ICC Prosecutor Bensouda, declaring, “The world is watching as a war crime unfolds in front of our very eyes… We call on you to urgently investigate this case within the overall investigation into related war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine, including forcible transfer, unlawful appropriation of property, crimes of apartheid, and other inhumane acts arising from these forced evictions.”
In July 2014, Natarajan was also signatory on a statement calling on the UN Security Council to ”finally exercise its responsibilities in relation to peace and justice by referring the situation in Palestine to the Prosecutor of the ICC” to “denounce the grave violations, mystification and disrespect of the most basic principles of the laws of armed conflict and of the fundamental human rights of the entire Palestinian population.”
In January 2014, Natarajan signed a statement to “endorse the call of Palestinian civil society for an institutional boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
- Badil’s political campaigns have included antisemitic messaging and graphics. BADIL has published antisemitic cartoons on its website, as well as imagery promoting the elimination of Israel. A cartoon that won a monetary prize for 2nd prize in BADIL’s 2010 Al-Awda Nakba caricature competition is a blatant representation of classic antisemitic tropes, including a Jewish man, garbed in traditional Hasidic attire, with a hooked nose and side locks. BADIL was founded to promote a Palestinian “right of return” and is also a leader of international BDS campaigns.
- The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) regularly lobbies the British Parliament, the United Nations, and other international forums, disseminating demonizing information and contributing to the international delegitimization of Israel on the “issue of the right of return both as a humanitarian and political concern.” On December 27, 2010, then Defense Minister Ehud Barak declared PRC an “unlawful association” due to its alleged association with Hamas. According to the Israeli Security Agency, PRC “is involved in initiating and organizing radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimizing Israel’s status as a nation among the European community.”
- On October 22, 2021, the Israeli Ministry of Defense designated Al-Haq a “terror organization” because it is part of “a network of organizations” that operates “on behalf of the ‘Popular Front’.”