NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 6) 31 March 2003
Palestinian Affiliates of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
"The International Commission of Jurists is dedicated to the primacy, coherence and implementation of international law and principles that advance human rights....What distinguishes the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is its impartial, objective and authoritative legal approach to the protection and promotion of human rights through the rule of law."
Source: ICJ website
The ICJ was founded in Berlin in 1952 and is now based in Geneva. Its activities include inquiry commissions, trial observations, fact-finding missions, public denunciations and "quiet diplomacy."
The Commission functions as a network with a well-defined structure. The International Secretariat is responsible for decision-making and is assisted by a network of 97 autonomous national sections and affiliated organizations located in some 70 countries. The Commission has a membership of sixty jurists chosen to represent the different legal systems of the world and who assist "its efforts in the development, promotion and clarification of international (human rights) standards."
This report will focus on ICJ's relationship with three affiliated Palestinian organizations inside this network; Al-Haq; Law; and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. The ICJ has no affiliates from the State of Israel.
The ICJ has publicly stated that it aims "to put greater stress on the national implementation...in particular by maximising the potential of its network members." In this framework, it is essential that the Commission investigates to what extent its affiliated members are implementing and reflecting the values and principles of the ICJ. This is the only way the organization can ensure and demonstrate the validity of its claim of an "impartial, objective and authoritative legal approach."
On this basis, and after a detailed review, NGO Monitor has concluded that Al-Haq, Law and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights do not live up to the noble aims of the ICJ, or even the universal values that their own mission statements advocate. While it is true that all three organizations declare a commitment to universal human rights values and international law, their reports and activities tell a different tale.
A close look at the mission statements of ICJ Israel/Palestine Affiliates
Al-Haq defines itself as "a Palestinian human rights organization located in Ramallah, West Bank, an affiliate of The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) - Geneva and is in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations."
Al-Haq was established in 1979 and has set itself the following goals:
"...protecting and promoting human rights and respect for the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories....the uniform application of universal principles of human rights regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or victim of abuse....legal and human rights research based on international and humanitarian law, as well as on human rights principles and standards....an extensive database, documents and exposes human rights violations....houses the only library specialized in human rights in the West Bank... contributes to the development of a transparent and democratic civil society in Palestine....Al-Haq expects to bring specific abuses to and end by targeting the human rights violations committed by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities."
Source: Al-Haq website
LAW, founded by a group of Palestinian lawyers in 1990, defines itself as a "Palestinian Human Rights organization, based in Jerusalem." Its website states its goals include:
"promote human rights and further the principles of the rule of law, and to defend Palestinian rights in accordance with international human rights law and United Nations declarations....protect human rights through an intensive program of documenting and following up abuses and through providing legal and financial help to people in need....ensure the right of defence for victims of human rights abuses, through lawyers working in the Society or accredited lawyers from outside the Society."
In addition, LAW organizes workshops and conferences "in order to raise human rights awareness and to strengthen community involvement against these abuses" and produces a journal "to participate in the building of a democratic civil society through bringing human rights issues to the attention of the Palestinian community."
Source: Law Website
(iii) Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR)
PCHR describes itself as "an independent legal body based in Gaza City dedicated to protecting human rights, promoting the rule of law, and upholding democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territories." It holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and is an affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH), and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network. PCHR is also a recipient of the 1996 French Republic Award for Human Rights.
The Centre was established in 1995 by a group of Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists with the following mandate:
"To protect human rights and promote the rule of law in accordance with international standards.....To create and develop democratic institutions and an active civil society, while promoting democratic culture within Palestinian society....To support all efforts aimed at enabling the Palestinian people to exercise its inalienable rights in regard to self-determination and independence in accordance with international law and UN resolutions."
Source: PCHR website
A look at the actual output and activities of ICJ Israel/Palestine Affiliates
The above mission statements are in line with the aims and objectives of the ICJ. A closer examination of the work of both Al-Haq and Law reveal a different reality.
A. Examples of Al-Haq reporting
Al-Haq declares it "is committed to the uniform application of universal principles of human rights regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or victim of abuse" and uses the slogan, 'Law in the Service of Man.' Its reports, press releases and picture gallery, however, reveal an ideological bias in flagrant contradiction of its own goals and that of the ICJ. Below are two examples of serious bias in Al-Haq reporting.
(i) An Al-Haq Public Statement
Quoted below is a statement presented by Al-Haq to the 58th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 2 April 2002:
"the Israeli government has launched a new campaign of aggression against the Palestinian people that threatens the lives of the whole of the civilian Palestinian population. Israel's latest actions are laying the foundation for a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented dimensions in the Occupied Territories. In order to avert this crisis the international community must take immediate steps to ensure protection for the civilian Palestinian population, and must call for an immediate end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories....Searches and raids have also been carried out in offices and businesses throughout the city. There have been reports of rampant vandalism and looting, with Israeli forces entering into shops and businesses and stealing goods."
NGO Monitor does not intend to enter a political discussion. Its brief is to expose where reports, campaigns, and advocacy of NGOs depart from that of their mission statements. There are three objections to this public statement:
Source: Al-Haq website
- The opening totally ignores the legitimate human rights concerns that the Israeli government faces and which are the context and background of its policies. Such concerns include frequent and random suicide bombings in public areas against civilian targets, without warning, which not only kill and maim thousands, but also sow fear into the hearts of the whole Israeli population. This is also a human rights violation.
- In the rare cases where there has been "vandalism and looting" by Israeli soldiers, these soldiers are punished in military courts. The Israeli army does not permit or tolerate its soldiers engaging in such criminal activities.
- Al-Haq calls for the international community to "take immediate steps to ensure protection for the civilian Palestinian population, and must call for an immediate end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories." Why does Al-Haq refrain from calling for the immediate cessation of terrorism against the Israeli civilian population and for the end of Palestinian terrorists using residential areas as launch pads for their operations? This points to the fact that Al-Haq is more interested in political rhetoric, not "the uniform application of universal principles of human rights regardless of the identity of the perpetrator or victim of abuse."
(ii) An example of an Al-Haq report
The second example is an Al-Haq article, from July 2001, "And some of them truly
know not what they do...." This article condones the murder of a Jewish farmer on the West Bank, in flagrant contravention of Al-Haq's own stated principles:
"Last night, an Israeli settler named Yair Har-Sinai was shot to death near the settlement enclave in the south of the West Bank. Fellow-settlers, who were today very extensively interviewed, told two things about him: that unlike other settlers, he did not carry a gun and claimed to be in favor of coexistence; and that more than any other settler, he was zealous in constantly staking a claim to "state lands", i.e. confiscated Palestinian lands, day and night herding his sheep on them so as "to make them into Jewish lands in practice" - which, from their point of view, is the highest praise possible."
The rest of the article condemned subsequent Israeli actions. Whatever one's political views are on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it is lamentable that an organization that claims to hold the rule of law and human rights, should make a political point in support of a murder. (See further information on this murder.)
One could feel sorry for this misguided man, as for the ever-increasing number of victims, which are claimed by the violent whirlwind of the past nine months. But any impartial observer would have to admit that Har-Siani's two attributes were in flat contradiction to each other. You just can't be a seeker after coexistence, much less an unarmed pacifist, and at the same time actively engaged in dispossing your neighbors. Har-Sinai died of that contradiction."
B. Examples of Law reporting
Like Al-Haq, Law's activities contradict its own mission statement and that of the ICJ. Examined below are two typical press releases taken from Law's homepage, that reflect clear ideological agendas.
(i) Law Press releases
The first, Annexation of more land in Bethlehem for Apartheid Wall, was issued 19 February 2003, This press release begins:
"Israel's military commander for the West Bank, Moshe Kaplinski on Monday (February 17) issued a military directive to annex 14 dunums of land, including 40 homes, in Bethlehem for Israel's Apartheid wall."
The press release goes on:
"Israel's apartheid wall is expected to be completed by June 2003, and is projected to run the whole 360-km length of the West Bank. The wall, in many places 8-meters high, includes watchtowers, electric fences, trenches and security patrols.
Only towards the end does the press release make any reference to Israel's term for the wall:
Israel's apartheid wall shall not be built within its de-facto international borders (approximating to the 1949 Armistice line, or "Green Line"). It shall be built within the West Bank, upon seized Palestinian lands. The wall and surrounding closed military areas shall annex approximately 10% of the West Bank to Israel. Around 385,000 Palestinians shall be effectively illegally annexed to Israel, or hemmed into the wall."
"LAW argues that Israel's so-called "security wall" is in fact an apartheid wall. The wall will restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, Palestinian livelihoods and Palestinian access to land - a wall which divides upon ethnic, national and religious identity. The apartheid wall involves the illegal annexation of some of the most fertile lands in the West Bank and water sources, while pushing Palestinians further into Bantustans, cantons and enclaves, where Israel can ensure maximum control over Palestinian lives and land."
The report finishes:
"For more information, see LAW's previous press releases, wall and www.stopthewall.org"
NGO Monitor has no position on the subject, but it strongly objects to this unbalanced and misleading reporting, which again ignores legitimate Israeli security concerns in the face of ongoing terror attacks, and the reasoning and strategy behind the wall, usually termed a 'security fence' in Israel.1 No one would deny that this subject, and not least its name, is highly controversial in both Palestinian and Israel society. From the perspective of those advocating its construction, the security fence would provide greater security for Israeli citizens by preventing terrorists from penetrating Israel from the West Bank. It has nothing to do with separating Arabs from Jews because Jewish populations would remain on the 'Arab side' of the wall in the West Bank and the Arab citizens of Israel would remain on the 'Jewish side.' It is regrettable that the ICJ should affiliate itself with an organization that engages in such politicized and simplified reporting, ostensibly in the name of human rights.
The second press release, Israeli forces rampant in Nablus Old City, dated 23 February 2003, includes a long list of Palestinian casualties. NGO Monitor deplores the loss of life but feels that Law has a responsibility to explain the circumstances leading to the state of affairs described in the press release. Moreover, NGO Monitor believes use of the word "rampant" conveys an inaccurate impression - an undisciplined army with no moral codes. It makes no mention of the fact that Nablus is a center of terror activity against the Israeli population, and that their protection against such attacks is the most basic of human rights. In reality, this Law document sent to journalists and posted publicly does not speak in the name of universal human rights, but solely in the name of the Palestinian cause.
(ii) Law Reports
Similarly, Law reports, listed and archived in full at http://www.lawsociety.org/Reports/Index.html, reveal a clear ideological and political agenda. The report entitled, Updated overview of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, fails to analyze the complex legal and political questions of what constitutes a 'war criminal' and what the term 'crime against humanity' means. There is also no attempt to establish criteria and analyze the facts and circumstances of events. Instead the report produces brash and statements such as:
"(there is) evidence of a policy to deliberately target civilians or indiscriminate attacks launched knowing they will cause excessive losses to civilians in deaths, injuries and property"
Law should make clear it is not simply a human rights organization, but rather a blatant Palestinian political and ideological organization, issuing unbalanced and unashamedly partisan press releases. The ICJ and those that support it should also question whether continued affiliation with such an organization is consistent with its own mission statement and objectives.
C. Examples of PCHR Reporting
(i) PCHR press releases
Like those of Al-Haq and Law, PCHR press releases fail to criticize the Palestinian Authority - a central element in PCHR's mission statement. The international press has repeated numerous examples of human rights violations inside the Palestinian territories. Why should an organization supposedly founded to "promote good governance and democracy in areas under the control of the Palestinian National Authority" ignore the fundamental and pervasive abuses of power by the Palestinian government? Indeed, not one item in the PCHR on-line library, tries to present a balanced approach to the conflict. This is a clear indication of the ideological purpose of the organization.
(ii) PCHR reports and Position Papers
PCHR does consider the issue of governance and democracy in the Palestinian territories elsewhere. A 46-page report, Performance Evaluation of the Fifth Term, March 2000-2001 purportedly monitors the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Yet, instead of analyzing governance and democracy in the Palestinian Authority (PA), this report is largely descriptive and suspiciously deferring to Yasser Arafat.2 It contains only mild criticism. One example is p. 30 where the Executive (essentially Arafat) tried to undermine the Legislative Council. The lack of separation of powers is mentioned on p. 31. A second criticism is a few lines dedicated to corruption on page 34.3 No serious analyst doubts that corruption in the PA is a major factor in its failure to improve the standard of living of the Palestinian population after Israel withdrew from the population centers. The recommendations section on pages 45 and 46 are more concerned with criticizing Israel than advocating substantive changes in the Palestinian Authority.
Continuing the subject of democracy, PCHR produced a position paper analyzing the calls for reforms in the PNA. The article defends the PNA and uses the pervasive myth of victimization to blame delays in the reform process on Israel's policies. The papers express concern that "the language of 'reform' is being co-opted at the expense of human rights and democracy." This is hardly the tone of a position paper that can be judged consistent with the ICJ's mission statement.
(iii) 'Theme packages'
The declared purpose of this section is to "give interested readers, journalists, students, NGOs and solidarity groups a place where they can find all the relevant information needed - such as statistics, legal references, fact sheets, reports, newspaper articles etc. - to get an adequate picture and understanding of the continuing human rights violations committed against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories." The section contains links to reports such as "Violations against Journalists and Media Institutions." This report accuses Israel of harassment of journalists and uses spurious information.4 PCHR, on the other hand, makes no mention of the abuses of journalists in the Palestinian territories. In the same section, there is a statement by a France press cameraman concerning the Muhammad Dura incident alongside a video of the incident. There is no conclusive evidence as to how the boy was killed. Some claim it was Palestinian gunfire, others Israeli gunfire. PCHR is undermining their own validity by putting anecdotal and sensationalist evidence on their website without explaining the issue in full.
The above three issues are in contradiction to Law's claims to "protect human rights and promote the rule of law in accordance with international standards....To create and develop democratic institutions and an active civil society, while promoting democratic culture within Palestinian society."
PCHR enjoys funding from a wide range of organizations including; Ford Foundation, NOVIB Holland, Open Society Fund, USA, Christian Aid, UK, CAW Social Justice Fund, Canada, Dan Church Aid, Denmark, Grassroots International, USA (covered in NGO Monitor #3), the European Commission, the Royal Danish Representative Office, Representative Office of Norway and Ireland Aid.
It is unclear whether these governmental and aid organizations realize the extent to which PCHR is abusing its mission statement. PCHR needs to change its mission statement to declare its true intentions: a Palestinian advocacy group.
The ICJ is funded by grants from governments, foundations, other NGOs and individuals. Major funders include Austria, Finland, Cyprus, Britain, Sweden, the French Prime Minister's office, the Greek minister of justice's office as well as other sources such as Ireland aid and the Tapei bar. Awards recognizing the ICJ's contributions include the first European Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe and the United Nations Award for Human Rights. The ICJ annual report talks of seeking new funding sources from corporate sponsorship as a means of maintaining a diversified base of support to "keep its independence."
This being so, it is important that the ICJ and its supporters are made aware of the extent to which its affiliates Al-Haq, Law and PCHR have departed from these goals and are jeopardizing the ICJ's reputation for impartiality. The effect is already felt in ICJ's reports on Israel.5
The ICJ has a responsibility to take action to inform its funders of the activities of its affiliates and to withdraw support where an affiliate departs from ICJ principles, as advocated in its mission statement.
The ICJ's relationship with Al-Haq, Law and PCHR was established many years ago, and this behavior does not mark a sudden change. All three organizations examined above are given publicity and are quoted by the ICJ. Al-Haq and ICJ have been working together for over twenty years. Indeed, Adama Dieng, Secretary-General of the ICJ, is praised on the Al-Haq website as "contributing significantly to strengthening Al-Haq as a human rights institution." ICJ representatives have often intervened in the UN and in the Israeli court system.6 The ICJ secretariat openly declares on its webpage that it puts faith in its member sections. This is despite the fact that the agendas and activities of the above organizations are inconsistent with the ICJ's stated principles (not to mention their own).
It is unclear why ICJ does not work with one of the numerous Israeli legal and civil rights NGOs. The Commission needs to revise its Israel/Palestine affiliations or one of the world's longest established human rights NGOs will risk losing credibility as an impartial human rights organization. Should the relationship continue without fundamental change, ICJ will be seen as an NGO with a clear ideological anti-Israel agenda that is inconsistent with its claims to advocate universal human rights.
1. This is not the only time that Law pushes the Apartheid comparison. Another report, Israel's Brand of Apartheid: The Nakba Continues, uses similar themes.
2. The most obvious example of deference to Yasser Arafat is p.16 at the start of the Introduction. Arafat is praised for giving a "comprehensive speech."
3. "Most of the members of the PLC are working in their own interest and ignoring the public interest."
4. An example is "The West Bank ranked ahead of other dangerous locations, including Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, and Zimbabwe." This quote does not take into account the number of media personnel in the West Bank and the relatively free access they enjoy to scenes of clashes, thereby increasing the risk of injury.
5. An example is a report on the expulsion of close relatives of suicide bombers from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. The ICJ report failed to include the Israeli logic and justification for such policies and the role of deterrence in saving Israeli civilian lives. Instead, the ICJ report talks of "collective punishment."
6. Cf. http://www.alhaq.org/newsletters/index.htm