A former New York State Supreme Court judge who replaced George Clooney’s fiancé on the latest United Nations-sponsored inquiry into human rights violations in Gaza once chaired another U.N. committee that harshly criticized Israeli for a previous military operation into the Hamas-controlled territory.
The “committee of independent experts in international humanitarian and human rights law” chaired by Mary McGowan Davis in 2011 was intended to follow up on the now discredited Goldstone Commission investigating human rights violations in the wake of the 2008 operations, known as Operation Cast Lead, against the forces of Hamas.
The Goldstone Commission’s report, which placed responsibility on Israel’s political and military leadership for human rights violations during the conflict including the direct targeting of civilians, was subsequently recanted by its chairman, South African jurist Richard Goldstone, for its unfounded accusations of Israeli war crimes and tilt against Israel—though it lives on in U.N. archives and references.
Both the Davis committee of 2010 and the current inquiry—generated by the U.N.’s 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva—were opposed by the U.S., which cast the sole negative vote against each of them.
In the case of the current three-person probe—called the Schabas commission, after its chairman, Canadian law professor William Schabas— the U.S. declared it was “deeply troubled” by the enabling resolution and said that it created “yet another one-sided mechanism targeting Israel.”
The U.S. attitude now, however, is more wait-and-see. While reaffirming that the Obama Administration was “strongly opposed” to creation of the Schabas Commission, a State Department official told Fox News that “we will watch closely to see if the commission takes a constructive, unbiased, and balanced approach to the investigation.”
He warned that “It risks damaging the reputation of the Human Rights Council and its ability to objectively and constructively address human rights in the region.”
Whether the Geneva-based Human Rights Council has any reputation left to damage is perhaps a more pertinent question. Nonetheless, the appointment of Davis, by providing a thread of continuity tracing back to the other distorted U.N. investigations against Israel in the now- simmering Gaza conflict, doesn’t indicate that the Council itself is fretting much about the issue.
For its part, Israel has charged bias against all of the investigations and refused to allow them into the territory.
Davis, who served on the New York Supreme Court from 1986 to 1998, was named to the latest inquiry on Monday by the current President of the Council, Baudelaire Ndong Ella, after British human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin—better known these days as the fiance of George Clooney—turned down the job.
Davis can at least claim to have impressive amounts of experience on the issue. Before she chaired the 2011 “independent experts” probe, she was a member of its three-person immediate predecessor, which reported in September 2010 along the same lines as her own probe six months later.
When it came to even-handedness, both reports were also about the same. In the report resulting from the inquiry she chaired, eight pages were devoted to the criticism of the shortcomings of Israeli military investigations into alleged crimes and excessed by Israeli forces, while three pages were devoted to Palestinian investigations—which were, the report noted delicately, “limited.”
The report also heard from Gaza’s ruling Hamas authorities—referred to as the “de facto Gaza authorities,” meaning they had no legal status—that they “did not have access to persons involved in the launching of rockets and mortars into Israel” –an assertion that the probe said left it “concerned,” but not much else.
The committee also took with a straight face the assertion by “de facto authorities” that they had conducted seven investigations of alleged human rights violations by their forces—against fellow Palestinians” but that four of the cases had been “discontinued at the request of the victim.”
Overall, the Davis committee said mildly, “It considers that the de facto authorities should make genuine efforts to conduct criminal inquiries and to hold accountable those who have allegedly engaged in serious violations of international humanitarian law by firing these rockets.”
How well that went can be judged from the massive barrage of rocket fire that led to the latest Israeli incursion.