Monday, December 15, 2008

Israel ousts Special Rapporteur Richard Falk

(An IntlawGrrls guest post from Lisa Hajjar)

Human rights scholar Richard Falk (right), the Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, now a visiting professor in Southern California, was chosen by the Human Rights Council to be the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestine in June 2008. Since he was appointed, the Israeli government has stated its opposition to him, citing his criticisms of Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza. The U.S. government also opposed his appointment for the same reasons, and both governments had lobbied -- unsuccessfully -- to block his appointment. In October, Falk released his first report about the human rights situation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
He received an invitation from Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas to study the situation in the West Bank, and his mission was authorized by the Geneva Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Falk left the United States on Friday and flew to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was joined by an assistant and a U.N. security detail. When the group arrived in Israel, the assistant and the security official were permitted to enter; however, Falk was detained at the airport, questioned and searched. He was informed that he would be denied entry, and was held for hours before being temporarily transported to some place beyond the airport (a VIP detention facility?).
The U.S. Embassy was alerted to this situation yesterday by Richard's wife, from California, after Richard made a quick call from the airport before going into an incommunicado situation. It took more than 12 hours for people to learn what Israel's plans were. to send him -- specifically, to send him to the United States, via Newark, on a flight scheduled to depart at 11:15 a.m. Israel time.
This is a situation that begs political and diplomatic intervention. In my view the incoming Obama Administration should, at minimum, issue a strong and unequivocal endorsement of Falk's status as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestine. Moreover, it should exert diplomatic pressure on Israel to grant him entry when he next seeks to travel to the country to pursue his U.N. mission.


Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Alas, the international law scholars at Opinio Juris, from Right to Left (i.e., from Julian Ku to Kevin Jon Heller) are adamantly opposed to Falk and not the least bit sympathetic to his situation. It would be nice if you commented over there to Julian's post ('Why Richard Falk is Unqualified to be a UN Special Rapporteur'), as anything I say would be, to them, rather predictable (I have a 'history' at the blog) and for this and other reasons, carry little or no weight. See:

Fiona de Londras said...

To be fair Patrick, although I too almost always disagree with Julian, his point (that maybe law professors in general are not qualified to be rapporteurs) may have something in it. I'm not sure that he reasons for saying Falk himself is unqualified (because of previously expressing quite strong dissatisfaction with Israel's approach to the OPT) are terribly convincing, but his underlying argument about the dissonance between the skills of a law prof and the required skills of a rapporteur is interesting, no?

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...


Re: "his underlying argument about the dissonance between the skills of a law prof and the required skills of a rapporteur is interesting, no?"

Interesting, perhaps, plausible, I doubt it. Of course one need not believe that the skills of a rapporteur are identical to those of a law professor to believe that they in no way serve to disqualify someone for the position. And, in Falk's case I think it's actually the other way around: the focus of his scholarship over the years demonstrates an unswerving commitment to the global realization of human rights in a way that does not carve out special privileges for powerful states or exempt weaker ones; his trenchant insistence that "we examine international politics and development through the prism of ethics and morality" (Michael Reisman) or, put differently, the fact that "for three decades now there has been no more important or interesting mapmaker for global politics based on humanitarian morality than Richard Falk" (Ken Booth); and his willingness to see the rights of Palestinians as in no way subordinate or secondary to (i.e., on equal footing with) the rights of Israelis, would appear to make him exquisitely qualified for the position. Being a lifelong academic probably disqualifies one from being good at any number of things, but a "Special Rapporteur" is hardly one of them.

Let's take an analogous or even identical case: Professor S. James Anaya, who is of course an academic and well-known scholar in his fields of specialization: especially human rights and the collective rights and issues of indigenous peoples. Yet this year Professor Anaya too was appointed by the United Nations as its Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, and justifiably so. I think the qualifications in both cases are roughly similar and the reasons for the appointment roughly and rightly similar if not the same as well.

I'm delighted to learn that you do not find the specific reasons "for saying Falk himself is unqualified...terribly convincing." Neither do I.

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I did in fact leave a comment over at Opinio Juris in case anyone is interested (I pasted my exchange with Fiona there as well):

Fiona de Londras said...

And my response, cross-posted in the conversation/comments area of the OJ post:

I don’t really think that the issue here is about Falk, per se, and certainly I suspect that the Israeli government could have acted more respectfully in this instance, but there is an interesting underlying question to be asked here which Julian at least hints at in his original post. Namely, ought special rapporteurs to have some kind of specific skill set re information gathering and reporting, or is the intellectual capacity to put information together, present it coherently, and analyse it against legal standards as established sufficient for the job of special rapporteur? To be honest my gut feeling is that professors/lecturers are probably well equipped to act as expert advisors, and indeed some have done excellent jobs as special rapporteurs, but the question is whether professorial status in and of itself qualifies one? My suspicion is that it doesn’t, but that any good researcher will know the limits of their own capacities and take on board experts and researchers and advisors as required. Given the relative regularity with which we have to carry out such tasks in our everyday work (especially where people do empirical and/or ethnographic work), it strikes me that successful profs are probably relatively well equipped for such jobs. Of course, plenty of non-professors have held special rapporteur positions as well (Asma Jahangir comes immediately to mind).