Political NGOs at Int’l Criminal Court review conference

NGOs played a central role at the First Review Conference of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statue in Kampala, Uganda, held May 31-June 11, 2010. The conference was promoted as “a unique opportunity for States and other stakeholders, such as international organizations and NGOs, to assess and reflect on the progress of the Rome Statute…and reaffirm their commitment to combat impunity for the most serious crimes.” NGOs lobbied for specific amendment language, issued briefing papers, moderated panels, and served as the biggest delegation at the conference.  ICC officials hailed “participation by civil society [as a] key to successful outreach for the Court and the Review Conference,” and many sessions recommended increasing direct NGO participation in the Court’s operations.

Several NGOs active in lawfare – including Amnesty International, HRW, FIDH, PCHR (funders include EU, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, and Norway), and the Center for Constitutional Rights (funders include Open Society Institute, Ford Foundation, Oak Foundation, Vanguard Charitable Endowment) – were highly visible at the event.  HRW’s Kenneth Roth moderated a panel on “peace and justice.”

FIDH, PCHR, and CCR used the ICC Review conference as a platform for anti-Israel campaigning.  At the opening of the event, the organizations issued a statement claiming that there is “prolonged impunity granted to Israel by the international community, despite Israel’s documented, persistent disregard for international and humanitarian law.”  The organizations demanded that the ICC Prosecutor “make an urgent determination regarding the opening of an investigation into the situation in the OPT”; that “[t]he UN Security Council: to refer the situation to the ICC”; and that [a]ll States Parties to the ICC [] take all appropriate measure, at the diplomatic and legal levels, to uphold the rule of law in the OPT.”

NGOs – but not HRW and Amnesty – against Iran’s incitement to genocide

The Responsibility to Prevent Coalition – which includes prominent politicians and human rights activists, and is chaired by Canadian Parliamentarian and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler – issued a report on June 22, entitled “The Danger of a Nuclear, Genocidal, and Rights-Violating Iran.” The publication argues that “Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited by the Genocide Convention,” in particular because of President Ahmadinejad’s comments about destroying Israel. At a press conference (July 13, 2010), Cotler noted that international law obligates states to oppose the incitement to genocide through sanctions and complaints to the International Court of Justice.

Although international human rights NGOs such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW) to some degree respond to Iranian government repression and internal abuses, these groups ignore antisemitism and genocidal threats from the regime. In an interview with The New Republic’s Benjamin Birnbaum (April 27, 2010), HRW’s Kenneth Roth “quibbled” about whether Ahmadinejad threatened to “wipe [Israel] off the map,” and claimed that HRW examines “how the government wages the war,” but not the aggressive rhetoric that instigates it. However, this attitude prevents NGOs from playing a role in preventing genocide before it occurs, as some have noted about Amnesty’s approach to the Khmer Rouge

Alternatives (Canada) funding cuts

According to an article in The Canadian Press, the Canadian government refused to fund a conference organized by Alternatives, a pro-Palestinian solidarity NGO. Alternatives had reportedly requested a $C50,000 grant for the event, which included a focus on “conflicts in the Middle East,” and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) recommended supporting it. But, the Canadian government elected not to fund the conference.

The Canadian Press article also details a 70 percent cut in CIDA’s core funding for Alternatives. In 2007, Alternatives reported that it received $C2.4 million from CIDA, out of a $C4.9 million budget. That has been reduced to $C800,000 for 2009-2011, with CIDA withholding support for projects in the Palestinian Authority, Democratic Republic of Congo, Canada, and Central America.

NGO Monitor’s research demonstrates that Alternatives promotes the Palestinian narrative, uses demonizing “apartheid” rhetoric, and supports the BDS movement.

Bil’in protesters cover up attempted rape; NGOs silent

Avi Issacharoff reported in Haaretz (July 14, 2010) that activists in the Palestinian anti-wall movement and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were trying to cover up the attempted rape of a foreign female activist by a Palestinian man in April. The man was arrested, and released after agreeing to apologize to her. However, she was persuaded to withdraw the complaint “to avoid tainting the image of the popular protest.” The Haaretz article claimed that “leaders of the Palestinian popular protests in villages such as Bil’in, Na’alim, Umm Salmuna, have been trying to keep [this] story away from both public knowledge and the media’s eye.”

This may not be an isolated event. Several “protest committees” have discussed other incidents of Palestinian sexual assaults on foreign activists, according to Issacharoff. Additionally, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) includes a “sexual assault and harassment” section in its training program for volunteers, stating “we have heard about a lot of sexual harassment and assault specifically towards women in the West Bank.”

NGOs claiming to promote human rights and that are active in the region – including HRW, Amnesty, Al Haq, and B’Tselem – did not report on these incidents, nor did they demand internal PA and international investigations.  NGO Monitor contacted several B’Tselem officials on two occasions, seeking information regarding any investigation the organization might be conducting regarding these very serious charges. B’Tselem did not respond. 

BDS Update: Failures from War on Want and others

The UK Charity Commission is investigating War on Want (WoW) for anti-Israel protests at the central London Waitrose supermarket. Activists wore “Boycott Israeli Goods” shirts, and collected produce that was grown in Israel. An official said the Charity Commission would examine “whether this is an acceptable activity for the charity to undertake.”

Following the protest, the Canadian Jewish Tribune newspaper contacted one of WoW’s funders, Comic Relief, over concerns that donations were used for “anti-Israel advocacy.” A Comic Relief spokesperson insisted that it only supported “poverty alleviation programs for women, children and communities in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Guatemala,” and “have never made a grant to or relating to Palestine or Israel.”

Another BDS non-success occurred in Germany. In May 2010, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Pax Christi issued statements calling on Deutsche Bank to “end its investment in Elbit Systems,” a Haifa-based company that supplies defense equipment and technology. Activists claimed that Deutsch Bank agreed to divest: the vice president of Pax Christi Germany called the divestment campaign a “huge success,” and the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (PGAAWC) took credit for starting a “chain of divestments from Elbit.” But, according to the bank’s CEO, “Deutsche Bank had no stake” and therefore did not divest” from the company.

Similarly, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) reported “good news” in its campaign to convince TIAA-CREF, a large US-based financial company, to “divest from the Israeli occupation.” In fact, TIAA-CREF reiterated that it was “unable to alter our investment policy,” emphasizing its “responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on retirement savings.”

Further articles BDS failure:

EU Update: New NGO projects, and increased scrutiny?

In July 2010, Al Dameer and the Palestinian NGO Network announced the creation of a “civil network to protect the right of freedom of association in the Gaza Strip,” funded by the EU via the European Instrument for Democracy & Human Rights (EIDHR). The network includes the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and eight other “civil and human rights organizations.” The EU-funded project includes a website entitled “Contributing Respect, Protection, and Promotion of the Rights of Freedom of Association in the Gaza Strip.”

Another EU project, “Fostering Community Change in the OPT,” was launched in partnership with Oxfam. The three-year, €533,780 program is meant to benefit six Palestinian villages in the West Bank. Local partners include MIFTAH, Palestinian Vision (PalVision), Ansar Centre for Children, and the Women’s Study Centre. The main goal of the project is to “strengthen the capacity of Palestinian civil society organisations, as a pre-condition for a more equitable, open and democratic society.”

At the same time, the European Parliament submitted a proposal intended to increase the “democratic scrutiny of EU external co-operation instruments,” which includes NGO funding mechanisms. If passed, this will allow Parliament to monitor and veto decisions made by the European Commission regarding “EU financial instruments” such as EIDHR.

Medecins Sans Frontieres: Mixing Medicine and Politics

In July 2010, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) worked “closely with an Israeli team of burn specialists” to treat victims of a fuel tanker crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a Haaretz report, however, one of Israeli doctors described negative interactions with the MSF volunteers, who “did not want to be around him or the other team members”: “Doctors from international aid organizations treat a delegation of volunteer Israeli doctors to Congo as though we were occupiers.” One aid worker commented, “Unfortunately, it’s true. International aid organizations [in the Congo] are very pro-Palestinian and not too friendly to Israelis.”

In response, MSF denied that “cooperation was difficult due to alleged anti-Israel sentiment from MSF staff,” or that it “places politics above the best interests of our patients.” However, the statement did not directly address the claims of interpersonal tension between the Israeli and MSF volunteers.

MSF also defended its accusation of Israel’s “devastating disregard” for civilians during the 2009 Gaza war, alleging that Israel conducted “indiscriminate bombings” during the fighting.

Al-Mezan Granted UN ECOSOC Status

The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based NGO, has been granted “special consultative status” by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC consultative status facilitates NGO participation in UN forums, including “attendance at … meetings … oral interventions and written statements.” The decision by the Council ignores rhetoric and activities by Al Mezan that are the opposite of universal human rights values.

Al-Mezan’s anti-Israel rhetoric includes labeling the Israeli Defense Forces the “IOF – Israeli Occupation Forces,” and baseless allegations of Israeli “holocaust (genocide),” “slaughters,” “massacres,” “target[ing] civilian premises directly and wantonly,” “war crimes,” and “apartheid.”  Al-Mezan has also been involved in “lawfare” campaigns against Israeli officials, including an attempt to procure an arrest warrant against Ehud Barak in the UK.

NGO Monitor in the media

Coverage of presentations to EU and Irish parliaments:

Time to Name and Shame: Iran’s Human Rights Violations, PJTV, July 26, 2010

Goldstone follow-up panel slammed, Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, July 16, 2010

Half the truth that’s fit to print, Gerald M. Steinberg, Jerusalem Post, July 11, 2010

The Gaza flotilla and the dirty NGO war, Gerald Steinberg, Canadian Jewish News, July 8, 2010

‘NY Times’: Settler supporters get US tax breaks, Jpost.com staff, Jerusalem Post, July 6, 2010

NIF pledges ‘to strengthen democracy’, Sam Cross and Dan Izenberg, Jerusalem Post, July 5, 2010

The Mada poster: Not ‘rape’ but maybe worse, Ron Kampeas, JTA, July 1, 2010

Arab-Israeli group takes Canadian agency to court over terminated funding, Patrick Martin, The Globe and Mail, July 1, 2010

A code of conduct for the New Israel Fund, Gerald Steinberg, Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2010

The War Against Israel, Gerald M. Steinberg, Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2010