Published on Thursday, April 25, 2002 by the Inter Press Service
Rights Groups Fault Israel for Blocking U.N. Team
by Thaleef Deen
UNITED NATIONS - Human rights organizations criticized the Israeli government Wednesday for challenging the composition and delaying the departure of a U.N. mission to investigate the devastation in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.
"Suspects shouldn't be able to choose their investigators," said Hanny Megally of Human Rights Watch. "It is in everybody's interest that the true record of what happened in Jenin be established."
Marty Rosenbluth of Amnesty International said both sides should feel confident in the impartiality of the U.N. team but neither should be given veto power over the composition of the mission. "If the Israelis are given a veto power, then the Palestinians too could make a similar demand," he told IPS. Controversy has raged since Monday, when U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan named the team's three members.
Led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the team includes former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and Cornelio Sammaruga, former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Annan said he consulted several member states before naming the team. These included Israel, which assured him it would cooperate with the mission.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously approved Apr. 19 Annan's proposal to send the team to Jenin. "That was our resolution," said a senior U.S. State Department official. "We believe it should be implemented."
By Monday, the Israeli government reversed its decision to cooperate and said the team lacked military and counter-terrorism experts.
Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said he told Annan his government wished to send representatives from Israel to brief the Secretariat staff "to make sure that the government's point of view was understood."
Following a meeting with Lancry Tuesday night, Annan decided to postpone the team's departure to allow further consultations.
U.N. spokesperson Fred Eckhard told reporters Wednesday that if it transpires that Israel demands additional experts, "we will bring them too." "But the team expects to be in the Middle East by Saturday," he added.
Although the primary team will consist of only three members, the United Nations has appended several experts, including legal and medical advisers, to the team.
Rosenbluth said Amnesty International was "profoundly disappointed" with the Israeli decision and urged the government to reconsider. "An impartial investigation is in everybody's interest," he said, adding the team members are "well known for their impartiality."
In a statement issued in London, the human rights organization also said: "Given that the [Israeli] government has stated that it has nothing to hide, Amnesty International calls on the Israeli government to permit the U.N. fact-finding team to undertake its vital task as planned and without delay."
Last week, the Israeli government also refused to issues visas to a team led by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson to visit Israeli-occupied territories and report to the Commission on Human Rights, currently meeting in Geneva.
Amnesty International said the Israeli government's decision to challenge the composition of the fact-finding team and its refusal to cooperate with Robinson's visit "flies in the face of the desire of the international community to find out the facts of what happened in Jenin."
Megally said that, like Israel, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had objected to the appointment of Roberto Garreton to investigate human rights violations in that country and Burundi had opposed the appointment of Sergio Paulo Pinheiro to head an inquiry there.
"The United Nations and the international community have not bowed to such pressures in the past and they should stand firm today", Megally added.
Copyright 2002 IPS