Previous UN Human Rights Council (HRC) fact-finding inquiries related to Israel have been of limited value due to their lack of due process and their disregard for legal standards and ethical principles. The continued failure by the HRC fact-finding mechanisms to employ clear benchmarks for ethical standards vis-à-vis their relations with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as their failure to adhere to the principles of objectivity, non-selectivity, balance, and universality, are among the reasons for the HRC’s failures during its first eight years, including the sweeping criticism of the Goldstone mission, among other initiatives. In some cases, their findings and conclusions have been manifestly dangerous and have contributed to civilian harm, bolstering the impunity of groups like ISIS, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Boko Haram.
A key indicator of impartiality is choice of subject by the fact-finders. Previous HRC inquiries have focused almost exclusively on the actions of Israel. Violations committed by Palestinian actors and against Israeli civilians were all but ignored. Israeli sources providing exculpatory evidence of Israel actions or evidence of Palestinian abuses were discounted or dishonestly twisted. In some cases, such as the Goldstone mission, Palestinian sources were always credited while Israeli sources only were valued if they were disparaging of Israel.
This lack of impartiality by missions like Goldstone is a primary reason why Israel has not cooperated with the current COI and is completely justified in making that decision. No person or country is obligated to engage with a process that is “employed not to discover evidence of real probity, but to … re-enforce predetermined political conclusions” to be used for “propaganda purposes.”
At a minimum, and in order to avoid, the gross failures of the past, the COI must strictly adhere to the principles of impartiality and objectivity, identify all individuals involved in its work, adopt transparency standards governing all interactions with NGOs, in particular groups that promote antisemitism, and implement guidelines as to how the credibility and factual claims of NGOs will be assessed.
It will also not be a credible excuse for the COI to claim, as Goldstone did, that it is highlighting the Palestinian narrative due to a lack of Israeli cooperation. Much of the information previous commissions have claimed they have lacked is available on public and open source material. If they do not have particular information, it is because the COI has failed to seek out Israeli sources that can provide it.
Unfortunately, we have no evidence or reason to expect that this COI will be any different from its predecessors in these core dimensions.