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UN rights body endorses Goldstone report
Published Friday 16/10/2009 (updated) 23/10/2009 16:49
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Author of the report, Justice Richard Goldstone [MaanImages]
Geneva - Ma'an - After listening to about 20 states and 30 nongovernmental organizations, the UN Human Rights Council on Friday adopted the resolution submitted by Palestine by a vote of 25 to six, with 11 abstentions.

The council is made up of 47 members and requires a majority of votes to pass a resolution.

The Palestinian envoy to Geneva, Ibrahim Kraishi, had demanded the UN body pursue criminals "wherever they are and whoever they are."

"The occupying power wants to make it look like it's doing the right thing," he said. "It wants the international community to look as if it's mistaken. But it's not logical. It's not possible for everybody to be wrong at the expense of one power."

"My people will not forgive the international community," Kraishi concluded, if it cannot see fit to pursue investigations against the crimes in Gaza.

The Israeli representative called the report's adoption "a setback for the efforts to revive peace," and said the move to pass the resolution would be "rewarded by terrorism." He reiterated Israel's right to defend itself.

The few Western states that spoke showed concern about why the special session was being called when the report had been on the agenda just two weeks earlier during a regular session of the Human Rights Council.

Deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolff called the resolution "regrettable," and said it went "beyond the scope of the Goldstone report." He said the resolution contained elements that should be "discussed within a final-status agreement," including Jerusalem.

Wolff said the report failed to deal adequately with the asymmetrical nature of the confrontation, and the adoption of the resolution could only postpone a lasting peace and deepen the divide between Israel and Palestine.

Among those voting yes were Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and South Africa.

Six countries voted against the report, including US, Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

Those that abstained were Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay.

Madagascar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote.

The voting was postponed for several hours before the session started. Following the delay, more than 20 states and 30 nongovernmental organizations, including the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Al-Dameer and Adalah addressed the council.

Delay and preambles

Opening the Friday morning session, the League of Arab States lamented what it termed the continuing violations of human rights and aggression by the government of Israel against the people of Palestine.

Syria, Iran, and Libya associated themselves with the Arab statement and emphasized the necessity, in the Libyan delegate's words, of "continuing to discuss the Goldstone report and look into its recommendations."

The Libyan delegate, whose country had raised the report in the Security Council session held this past Wednesday, also called for the matter to be considered and acted upon by the UN General Assembly.

The Libyan delegate called the draft resolution a "a litmus test" that would prove whether international human rights law creates legal obligations or are mere "slogans that are misused" to accomplish political ends.

A spokesperson for UN Watch, a pro-Israel NGO, claimed Israel had done more than the US or the UK in Iraq or Afghanistan to "safeguard the rights of civilians in the war zone" in Gaza.

A former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp addressed the UN session and said that based on his knowledge and experience, Israel "did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare."

This was immediately followed by a statement from the Israeli NGO, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, stating that based on its long and extensive experience in the Israeli courts, these courts have failed to adequately deal with violations of law by Israeli soldiers. She went on to enumerate the laws and some examples of cases that evidence the failure of the Israel judicial and legislative bodies.

Mustapha Barghouti, speaking for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, recounted the international crimes that he had witnessed as a doctor in Palestine. He called the Goldstone report a test of the integrity of the UN's concern for human rights and respect for the rule of law.

The deputy permanent representative of Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, then introduced the resolution with an oral amendment for a new paragraph "condemning all targeting of civilians and stressing the urgent need to ensure accountability for all violations of the international human rights law and international humanitarian law to prevent future violations."

The president of council then gave the permanent representative of Israel the floor as a concerned country, who quoted Justice Goldstone as expressing his concern that the draft resolution was too harsh on Israel, stating "this time Justice Goldstone is correct." He continued that Israel, however, did not agree with what Justice Goldstone had said in the report. He ended with an implicit threat by his government to stop cooperating with the council and to sabotage the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian ambassador then spoke, saying that he "would not use the rostrum of the council to condemn either Hamas or Israel," and plead that "all we want is to ensure that criminals everywhere do not enjoy impunity."

He ended by requesting consensus in the council on the resolution.

The French had requested first a short delay for consultations and then a longer two-hour delay, to which Egypt, one of the sponsors of the resolution, objected. Although stating immediately after the Egyptian objection that he heard "no objections" to the French request, the Belgian president said that council would then proceed to a vote.

The United States made a statement before the vote lamenting the council, for dealing with the report as an urgent manner, instead hoping that the council would delay action on the report. As in his statement delivered during the general debate on the resolution, the US delegate again recalled that more than six months should be given to Israel to investigate the allegations of international crimes.

He did not address the statements by several Israel officials that unequivocally stated that "no Israeli soldier" would be prosecuted because of the allegations made in the report. The US also called for a vote on the resolution stating that it would vote no and calling on other states to join them.

Also speaking before the vote Chile, Brazil, and Argentina generally spoke in support of the resolution, although most expressed dissatisfaction with the way this session had been convened.

Slovenia, Uruguay, Norway, and Mexico stated that while they could not support the draft resolution and would abstain. Several of these states also reiterated their support for the Goldstone report and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

No state joined the United States in announcing it would vote against the resolution.

The resolution

The three-part resolution calls for Israel to cease settlements in East Jerusalem, to allow unhindered access to the Al-Asqa Mosque and for the council to refer the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict to the General Assembly. The omnibus resolution also called for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to report on the situation of human rights in Palestine.

When the vote was finally taken in recorded form at the request of the United States, 25 states voted for the resolution, six voted against, and eleven abstained.

After the resolution was passed, about a dozen states elaborated on their votes. The HRC president then stated he would transmit the resolution "urgently" to the General Assembly.

Finally, the Algerian ambassador challenged the US ambassador to back his oral commitment to making the Human Rights Council a real body of action, by ending the armed conflict in Palestine and taking meaningful action on violations of human rights in Palestine.

Curtis Doebbler contributed to this report.

***Correction: A prior version of this article identified Argentina as one of the countries which voted against the resolution, and placed Brazil on the list of abstentions. Ma'an regrets both errors.
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