UN chief accused of biased stance on Gaza conflict
As a WikiLeaks document exposes his disturbing conduct concerning a UN probe report on Israel's human rights violations during the 2008-09 Gaza war, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has again come under fire for his pro-Israel bias with regard to the latest conflict in Gaza.
OVER 130 Palestinian and international civil society organisations (CSOs) as well as prominent individuals have accused UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of assuming a biased position towards the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza.
This accusation came in an open letter sent to the UN chief on 5 August by the CSOs and which was also endorsed by notable individuals such as Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; John Pilger, a well-known journalist and author; Luisa Morgantini, former Vice President of the European Parliament; and Breyten Breytenbach, a poet and painter.
In their letter, the groups charged that Ban had failed 'to clearly condemn Israeli unlawful actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, while, on the other hand, not hesitating to accuse - sometimes mistakenly - Palestinian combatants in Gaza of violations of international law'.
The CSOs called on Ban to stand up for law and justice or to resign, telling him that they were extremely disappointed by his performance, 'notably by your biased statements, your failure to act, and the inappropriate justification of Israel's violations of international humanitarian law, which amount to war crimes.'
'Until today,' the CSOs argued, 'you have taken no explicit and tangible measures to address the recent Israeli attacks in the occupied Palestinian territories since 13 June. Moreover, your statements have been either misleading, because they endorse and further Israeli false versions of facts, or contrary to the provisions established by international law and to the interests of its defenders, or because your words justify Israel's violations and crimes.'
The CSOs further told Ban: 'You have undeniably assumed a biased position toward the current attack on Gaza and Israeli violations in the West Bank by failing to clearly condemn Israeli unlawful actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, while, on the other hand, not hesitating to accuse - sometimes mistakenly - Palestinian combatants in Gaza of violations of international law.'
According to the letter, this bias could be noted in the following excerpts: 'The Secretary-General strongly condemns the killing today of at least 10 Palestinian civilians in shelling outside of an UNRWA [the UN agency for Palestine refugees] school in Rafah providing shelter to thousands of civilians. The attack is yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, UN staff and UN premises, among other civilian facilities.'
The groups said that such a statement, by failing to name the perpetrator - Israel - was not only biased but also offensive to UNRWA as well as to other UN agencies and international organisations that struggle to provide relief and protection to Palestinians in Gaza.
The letter noted that UNRWA, which had lost nine staff members in Gaza since the beginning of Israel's Operation Protective Edge, hosted around 270,000 internally displaced persons (25% of Gaza's population) in its shelters.
UNRWA's preliminary analysis on a previous attack against one of its schools had indicated that it had been hit by Israeli artillery, constituting an indiscriminate attack and likely a war crime.
Moreover, the groups told the UN chief, by condemning the storage of weapons in UNRWA schools without offering complete details and a proper account on international law, 'your statements endorse Israeli excuses to unlawfully, indiscriminately target such civilian objects'.
The letter also pointed to Ban's condemnation of 'the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning. He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments'. This, the letter said, revealed a reckless endorsement of the Israeli version of facts, blaming Hamas for violating the ceasefire, even though it was admitted that '[t]he Secretary-General notes that the UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened'.
According to the letter, the following statement further illustrated the Secretary-General's ignorance of facts on the ground: 'The Secretary-General has learned with concern that leaflets are reportedly being dropped by the Israeli Defence Forces in the northern Gaza Strip this evening, warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City. If true, this would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days.'
The groups underlined that the dropping of leaflets had been a known practice since the beginning of the Israeli operation in Gaza, contributing to a scenario of more than 480,000 internally displaced.
The CSO letter noted that in the same statement, 'The Secretary-General strongly urge[d] all sides to avoid any further escalation at this time[, noting] that all sides must meet all obligations under international humanitarian law, both towards civilians ahead of impending attacks, as well as maintaining proportionality in any kind of military response.'
In this regard, the letter pointed to the revelation of an undue equalisation of the two sides of the conflict which failed to address the greater impact of violations committed by Israel, which had killed at least 1,814, the vast majority of whom were civilians, during its operation in Gaza.
The groups addressed the following to the Secretary-General: 'When you make no distinction between oppressors and victims, in all your statements, when you name Palestinian combatants as perpetrators of violations and war crimes while you ignore naming Israel, as you used to do in referring to specific actions, when you avoid codifying Israeli actions that amount to war crimes, while you insist on prescribing Palestinian reactions as grave breaches of international humanitarian law, when you always advocate unlawfully the Israeli right to self-defence, while having not pointed out the Palestinians' legitimate and legal right to resist occupation, colonisation and institutionalised discrimination, when you adopt and advocate Israeli false stories, while not mentioning Palestinians' narrative, when you disregard facts on ground clearly resulting from Israeli attacks, while you seek the immediate and unconditional release of a falsely captured soldier who was in the battlefield, you do not maintain peace and security; nor do you ensure human rights.'
'By reviewing your statements, it becomes evident you have not been fulfilling your mandate,' said the groups. On the contrary, 'your statements have not only allowed the continuance of Israel's killing our people, but also encouraged States to continue providing Israel with impunity.'
The letter advised Ban to either drastically change his position - not only in words but also in his efforts to, through the UN, effectively end the current conflict - or resign.
'For us, if you continue playing this role, you prove what our people feel, that you are a partner in, or at least an enabler of, the ongoing violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israel against our families, children, women, elders - against our people,' the letter concluded.
Kanaga Raja is Editor of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) published by the Third World Network. This article is reproduced from SUNS (No. 7862, 12 August 2014).
WORLD AFFAIRS 2 (box)
WikiLeaks: Ban Ki-moon worked with Israel to undermine UN report
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon collaborated in secret with Israel and the United States to weaken the effects of a UN probe's report accusing Israel of human rights violations in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009.
WikiLeaks released documents on 8 August which revealed that Ban wrote a letter to the UN Security Council asking its members not to take into account recommendations by a UN board of inquiry on Israeli bombings in Gaza.
The report demonstrated that the Israel Defence Forces(IDF) had a direct role in seven of nine attacks against UN buildings in Gaza, and accused Israel of having breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises: 'The summary of the report concludes that seven of the nine incidents covered by the report were caused by military actions of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and that the IDF breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises, that such inviolability and immunity cannot be overridden by demands of military expediency, and that the IDF did not take sufficient precautions to fulfil its responsibilities to protect UN property and personnel and civilians taking shelter therein. The Board found the Israeli government responsible for the deaths, injuries, and physical damage that occurred in those seven cases and estimated the cost to repair damages at something over USD11 million.'
According to WikiLeaks, then US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spoke at least four times with Ban 'to discuss concerns over the Board of Inquiry's report on incidents at UN sites in December 2008 and January 2009'.
The report's recommendations included the need fora deeper and impartial investigation into the recent 'incidents' and into the bombings of UN facilities:
'10) Ensure the timely investigation of other incidents involving UN premises and personnel that were not included within the Board's [terms of reference].
'11) Recommend that the nine UN incidents be further investigated and that non-UN-related incidents involving civilians also be investigated as part of an impartial inquiry into "allegations of violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza and southern Israel by the IDF and by Hamas and other Palestinian militants."'
According to WikiLeaks, Rice first asked Ban not to include the recommendations in the final report's summary, supposed to be transmitted to the UN Security Council on 5 May 2009.
Ban responded that 'he was constrained in what he could do since the Board of Inquiry is independent; it was their report and recommendations and he could not alter them'.
In the second conversation, 'Rice urged the Secretary-General to make clear in his cover letter when he transmits the summary to the Security Council that those recommendations exceeded the scope of the terms of reference and no further action is needed.'
Ban then replied that 'his staff was working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter'. 'Ambassador Rice asked the Secretary-General to be back in touch with her before the letter and summary are released to the Council.'
Ban confirmed in the last phone call that 'a satisfactory cover letter' had been completed. In the letter, 'Ban underscored that Boards of Inquiry do not consider questions of legality nor make legal findings; that Israel continues to work with the UN Secretariat to address the Board's recommendations; and that he will seek no further inquiry into matters the Board addressed which are outside its Terms of Reference, specifically its recommendation numbers 10 and 11.' - teleSUR (www.telesurtv.net/english)
*Third World Resurgence No. 287/288, July/August 2014, pp 53-55