Obama’s first “test” at the Human Rights Council

Judge Richard Goldstone presented his findings in person to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today.  The report, which investigated alleged war crimes surrounding Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter, found evidence suggesting that possible war crimes were committed by both the IDF and Hamas.  The report recommended that should local accountability mechanisms continue to be ignored, the Security Council should grant jurisdiction over the alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court.  

Into this equation steps, for the first time, the United States.  Last spring, the Obama administration sought, and won, an elected seat to the 47 member council.  Still, according to State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh (himself a lion of international law) United States membership in the council is but an “experiment.”

Well, if that’s the case, then today’s events at the Human Rights Council will present this new experiment’s first test.  Egypt, Nigeria, Tunisia and Pakistan have circulated a resolution endorsing the Goldstone’s recommendations “in full” (i.e. that the situation be referred to the Security Council for possible ICC intervention). 

The United States, however, is seeking something else.  In a statement critical of the methodology of the Goldstone report, assistant secretary of state Michael Posner, said the United States seeks a “consenus resolution that encourages Israel to investigate and address allegations in the Report thoroughly through credible domestic processes. It should also call on the Palestinians to launch credible investigations to address allegations of Hamas abuses and demand that Hamas stop its clear violations.”

So, it’s fair to say the United States will not go along with the current draft resolution. But will it secure enough votes for its preferred “consensus resolution?” 

We shall see. 

What should not be lost in the theatrics of today, though,  is the long term value of accountability.  At the Council meeting, Judge Goldstone explained why ending a culture of impunity is critical for lasting peace: 

“Now is the time for action,” Goldstone told the Human Rights Council. “A culture of impunity in the region has existed for too long. The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence. Time and again, experience has taught us that overlooking justice only leads to increased conflict and violence.”