Letter Regarding Attacks on UN's Palestine Rapporteur

To Kenneth Roth, Executive Director

Human Rights Watch

27 December 2012

Dear Ken,

We write with deep concern, as colleagues of Human Rights Watch in the Palestinian, Israeli, U.S., and international human rights movement.

The UN Human Rights Council chooses its Special Rapporteurs based on their knowledge of the issue, their commitment to human rights, and crucially, their independence. As you know, they remain independent throughout their tenure, not becoming part of the staff of the UN or its agencies, precisely to make sure they continue to bring an independent analysis to their work and to speak with an independent voice regarding the human rights violations and conditions they observe.

Professor Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967, was chosen because he meets all of those requirements – including the willingness to stand firm in the face of pressure.

Special Rapporteurs must be prepared to stand up to attacks, especially from the government under investigation and too often from that government’s most powerful allies.  Professor Falk, SR for Human Rights in the OPT, has faced insult, abuse, exclusion, even arrest and expulsion, from Israel, the Occupying Power, and further abuse from the United States, its most powerful ally. During his years as SR, Professor Falk has also faced unwarranted criticism from other, less expected forces, including the top leadership of the United Nations itself.

In virtually all of those cases, including groundless criticisms of Professor Falk issued by the U.S. representative to the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice; the U.S. representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Eileen Donahoe; and Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, the harsh attacks on Professor Falk resulted from demands from UN Watch, a small organization widely known for its efforts to undermine the United Nations, its uncritical support of Israel and indeed, its attacks on Human Rights Watch.

And now HRW itself, one of the preeminent international human rights organizations, has joined that unbecoming assemblage of unjustified critics of Professor Falk in direct response to a demand by the same UN Watch.

The UN Watch letter, dated 17 December 2012, called on HRW “to remove him immediately” from the organization’s “board.” In an immediate response, HRW corrected the misidentification of the “board,” explaining that Professor Falk was not a member of the board but rather of HRW’s local support committee in Santa Barbara, California, where he lives and works. But HRW went on to explain that Falk was now no longer a member of the SB committee, a move explained as part of “longstanding policy, applied many times, that no official from any government or UN agency can serve on any Human Rights Watch committee or its Board. It was an oversight on our part that we did not apply that policy in Richard Falk’s case several years ago when he assumed his UN position.”

UN Watch immediately claimed credit for what it called the “expulsion” of Professor Falk from the HRW committee.  And whether or not “expulsion” is the most accurate term, UN Watch had every reason to claim responsibility – HRW’s request for Falk’s resignation was taken in direct response to their demand.

As you know, Special Rapporteurs are not “officials” of the UN or any UN agency; they are independent.  For five years HRW had ignored or not paid attention to Richard Falk's very high-profile role as SR while he continued to serve on the SB committee. Clearly his participation in the committee (which preceded his accession to the SR role) did not result in any threat to HRW’s work or independence.  Yet you responded with extraordinary alacrity to the ill-intentioned (to put it politely) demand of a known UN-bashing, anti-human rights organization.

However much you may have intended simply to enforce an existing policy, your action unfortunately gives credibility to UN Watch, and sends a clear message that its litany of screeds against Richard Falk is being taken seriously by one of the most influential international human rights organizations.

As organizations and individuals ourselves committed to human rights, we are deeply grateful to Professor Falk for his work. He has carried out his mandate – despite insult, abuse, arrest, expulsion and exclusion – with enormous integrity and courage despite being continually attacked and denied access by Israel, the Occupying Power, to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  He deserves the support of a human rights organization, rather than the endorsement of attacks by a group that stands against human rights. We urge you to issue an immediate public apology to Professor Falk, and to clarify that he was not “expelled” as an “enemy of human rights” as UN Watch claimed.

Many thanks.

Khalil Abu-Shammala, General Director, Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights (Gaza)

Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President, Arab Lawyers Association (UK)

Susan Akram, human rights attorney

Issam Aruri, General Director, Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center

Iyad Barghouti, Director, Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (Palestine)

Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies (U.S.)

Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director, National Lawyers Guild (U.S.)

Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London; barrister; and

President, European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights and International Secretary, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

John Cavanagh, Executive Director, Institute for Policy Studies (U.S.)

Mohammed Chamieh, Arab Group for Enabling National Democracy (Switzerland)

Marjorie Cohn, former President, National Lawyers Guild (U.S.)

Neri Colmenares, President, National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (Philippines)

Evelyn Durmayer, Representative to the UN in Vienna, International Association of

            Democratic Lawyers

Jan Fermon, Progress Lawyers Network (Belgium)

Gianfranco Fratornini, Movement Pour les Droit du Peuple (Switzerland)

Sahar Francis, Director, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association


Krish Govender, member National Association of Democratic Lawyers (South Africa)

Zaha Hassan, human rights attorney, former adviser Palestinian Negotiating Team

Nadia Hijab, author and human rights advocate

Lennox Hinds, Permanent Representative to the UN, International Association of

            Democratic Lawyers

Shawqi Issa , Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (Palestine)

Hassan Jabareen,  General Director, Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in


Shawan Jabarin, General Director, al-Haq (Palestine)

Rifat Kassis, General Director, Defence for Children International – Palestine Section

Rania Madi, Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refuge (Geneva)

Fabio Marcelli, Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers

Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Juan Moreno, Foro de Abogados de Izquierdas – Red de Abodados Democratas (Spain)

Karma Nabulsi, professor, Oxford University

Osamu Niikura, Secretary General IADL, Vice-President JALISA, Board member Japan

            Society for International Human Rights Law

Zakaria Odeh, Executive Director, Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem

Edre U. Olalia, President, International Association of People's Lawyers

Vanessa Ramos, President, Asociacion Americana de Juristas

Joseph Schechla, Coordinator, Housing & Land Rights Network, Habitat International

Coalition (Egypt)

Thomas Schmidt, General Secretary, European Lawyers for Democracy and World

            Human Rights

Jintendra Sharma, President, Indian Association of Lawyers

Iratxe Urizar, Coordinator of Behatokia, the Basque Observatory of Human Rights, Secretary  of

 Eskubideak (Basque Association of Lawyers)

Vincent Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights (U.S.)

Roland Weyl, Droit Solidarite, (France)

Roberto Zamora Bolaños, International Association of Democratic Lawyers (Costa Rica)


Organizations listed for identification only