Dispute over 'biased' Gaza inquiry professor

By Bernard Josephs, August 27, 2009
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Row: Christine Chinkin

Row: Christine Chinkin

A row has broken out over the inclusion of a UK law professor in a United Nations inquiry into the Gaza conflict.

The monitoring group, UN Watch, claimed the LSE professor, Christine Chinkin, was biased against Israel and demanded that she should be removed from the UN’s fact-finding mission into alleged human rights violations, headed by the South African judge Richard Goldstone.

But this week a spokesperson for the mission dismissed as “misplaced” the claims by UN Watch against Professor Chinkin.

In a letter to the mission secretariat, and the new head of the UN’s Human Rights Council, the Geneva-based monitoring group cited a letter to the Sunday Times in January, to which Prof Chinkin and many prominent critics of Israel were signatories.

Though they condemned Hamas rocket attacks on Israel as “deplorable”, the writers said that such attacks did not amount “in terms of scale and effect to be an armed attack entitling Israel to act in self- defence”.

UN Watch complained that Professor Chinkin had rejected Israel’s right to self-defence against rocket attacks and had accused the country of “aggression” and “prima facie war crimes”. International law and the rules of due process, said the organisation’s director Hillel Neuer, required fact-finders in the human rights field to be impartial.

“How can Justice Goldstone claim that his fact-finders are operating with an open mind when one of them has already made up her mind?” UN Watch demanded that Professor Chinkin “immediately step down from the inquiry or that she be disqualified by the other fact-finders or by the new Human Rights Council president, Ambassador Alex Van Meeuwen of Belgium.”

A statement by the mission said that whether Israel’s military response to rocket fire was justified was not an issue they would deal with. It would solely investigate suspected violations of humanitarian law — on which the letter co-signed by Professor Chinkin “had expressed no view”.

The “so-called petition of UN Watch is based on legal precedents…The fact-finding mission cannot in any way be considered a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding.

“In all the circumstances the members of the mission consider the attack by UN Watch to be misplaced, and it is rejected by them.”

Professor Chinkin declined to make a personal comment.

Last updated: 11:09am, August 27 2009