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Navi Pillay’s Cronyism

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ play to implement the Goldstone report.

2:05 PM, Jan 25, 2011 • By ANNE BAYEFSKY
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All of this meant that Pillay’s newly appointed “independent experts” were theoretically committed to assessing the “independence” and “effectiveness” of Israeli proceedings and their conformity with international standards. But in practice, the NGO to which they were also closely connected had specifically declared before the Council that Israeli processes “failed to meet international standards of effectiveness and independence.” And in case the triumvirate needed any help coming to that conclusion, they could always count on assistance from the High Commissioner’s office and her partisan advisor on the rule of law.

In addition to her ICJ connections, appointee McGowan Davis had another problem with fitting the “independent expert” mold – her own connection to Pillay. McGowan Davis was a consultant both to the Rwandan Tribunal and to the International Criminal Court during the time that Pillay served as a judge on each of these courts.

Pillay’s office also selected South African lawyer Ahmed Motala as the in-house contact to serve as the Tomuschat committee’s facilitator. Motala, however, doubled as an anti-Israel blogger. He had written in the middle of the Gaza war that Israel targeted Palestinian civilians in order to impress voters: “What better way to gain the support of the Israeli electorate than to ... kill innocent civilians.” After Motala’s comments were widely circulated, Pillay was forced to remove him from the committee post.

But Pillay seems to have been undaunted, making no pretense of an even-handed approach when it came to Israel. On July 7, 2010 she made an unusual appearance before the U.N. Security Council, having been invited to address the issue of “situations where the protection of civilians has been and remains of great concern.” After noting the millions affected by atrocities around the world, the only plea she made in her statement to the Security Council on behalf of the peoples of this earth was: “I urge the Security Council to support the recommendations of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict,” a.k.a., the Goldstone report.

The Goldstone follow-on committee performed as Pillay and the Human Rights Council anticipated. Their September 2010 report repeated the odious claim that Israel engaged in “violence against civilians as part of a deliberate policy” and criticized Israel’s legal system for failing to hunt down “officials at the highest levels.” Referring to a Hamas internal “investigation,” in which Hamas exonerated itself from all wrongdoing, the committee could only conclude that it was “not in a position to ascertain the veracity of any of these assertions.”

The Human Rights Council rewarded the committee with a job renewal, a request for another report in March of 2011, and a demand that the U.N. system open its coffers and pay for it all. However, given the obvious biases and lack of independence among Pillay’s crew, the professional reputation of committee members was starting to suffer. Perhaps the glow from impressing Libya, Saudi Arabia and company was also wearing off. So in late November of last year, Tomuschat, followed a week later by Cumaraswamy, resigned from the Goldstone follow-on committee.

It was left to Pillay to find a replacement. Which brings us to Monday’s unassuming press release. Pillay promoted McGowan Davis to the position of chair and chose Lennert Aspegren to join McGowan Davis on the Goldstone campaign.

Again, Pillay’s twisted notion of an “independent expert” is on fully display. Aspegren and Pillay were both elected to the Rwandan Criminal Tribunal at the same time in 1995, frequently assigned to the same three-judge chamber, and worked as full-time colleagues until 1999. Pillay was taking no chances on a stranger with whom she couldn’t pick up a phone. Moreover, just like Pillay, Aspegren had once worked in close cooperation with the Tribunal’s prosecutor, Goldstone – who had a vested interest in the findings of the follow-on committee.

It gets worse. With Goldstone deservedly under fire, so-called human rights organizations have begun giving him awards. One such award is the Stockholm Human Rights Award, tailor-made for the Goldstone resuscitation campaign, with Goldstone being the first-ever recipient in 2009. This award is a joint initiative involving three organizations, one of which is the International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC). One of the four “founding organisations” of ILAC is the International Commission of Jurists, the NGO connecting so many of the dots.  

Prior to giving Goldstone his award, ILAC and the other two organizations sponsoring the prize wrote and widely distributed a letter, entitled, “The Goldstone report must be taken seriously.”  Goldstone was on the ILAC governing body (the ILAC Council) at the time it decided to create and award him the prize. Cumaraswamy, the former Pillay appointee to the Goldstone follow-on committee, is one of a small group of specially-appointed ILAC “individual members.” The unseemly optics of it all evidently passed unnoticed. 

It is less difficult to overlook the award recipient in its second year. The 2010 Stockholm Human Rights Award was given to none other than Goldstone-crusader, High Commissioner Pillay. The award was given out in a small ceremony on November 30, 2010, and in the room was her old colleague at the Rwandan Criminal Tribunal and soon-to-be-member of the Goldstone follow-up committee, Lennart Aspegren. Pillay singled him out for individual praise in her acceptance speech. 

It also transpires that while Goldstone was on the ILAC Council and Cumaraswamy was an individual member, Aspegren was selected to serve on a number of ILAC delegations, which sent him on missions around the world, a debt he may just want to repay.

So this is how the U.N. works. A High Commissioner with a clear bias, shared by the U.N.’s most unscrupulous set of state actors, contrives to create a series of committees to forward her agenda. The job descriptions are liberally sprinkled with the word “independent.” But, in fact, she ensures that individuals who are anything but “independent” fill the positions. They are either indebted to her or to each other. They share her biases or are tied to those who do. And in the face of criticism, they manufacture and give each other awards. Those with bruised reputations depart, only to be replaced by other reliable friends.

It is hard to know which of these many steps is more deplorable than the next. In the name of “independence” and “accountability,” the U.N.’s top human rights official is busy promoting a vicious campaign to demonize one U.N. member state and throwing the rules about impartiality and fairness out the window.

Commissioner Navi Pillay and her appointments, Lennert Aspegren and Mary McGowan Davis, are the wrong people to take any leadership role in demanding accountability from others.

Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a professor at Touro College, and the editor of 

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