(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.