London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) probe into Israel’s war on Gaza has told Asharq Al-Awsat he will not resign from his post despite pressure to do so from the Israeli government and media.
Canadian international law expert and UNHRC investigator William Schabas told Asharq Al-Awsat: “I will not resign unless the UNHRC considers my presence as head of the committee to be a hindrance to the investigation.”
Israel’s media has fiercely criticized the UN’s decision to investigate the Gaza conflict for war crimes, particularly condemning Schabas’s appointment as head of the investigation.
Schabas had previously participated in the Russell Tribunal, a citizens’ group of legal experts and activists that charge Israel of having violated international law and which works to hold Israel accountable for such violations.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced that the appointment of Schabas as head of the committee proved that “Israel cannot expect justice from this organization [the UN].”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Schabas denied accusations that he has pre-existing anti-Israeli sentiments. He said: “I do not hate Israel and I do not want to enter into an argument on my previous stances on Israel. I had stances on Palestine and Israel in the past which have no relation to my current task . . . and they will not affect the course of the investigation.”
“The committee only received objections from Israel and the United States, while the whole world wants to shed light on what took place in Gaza two months ago,” he added.
Schabas said the UNHRC committee he is heading will include a total of six or seven members who will gather eyewitness testimony regarding the events in Gaza. He added that a special website is due to be launched where citizens can provide testimony both in Arabic and Hebrew.
Schabas did acknowledge that UN investigations often fall foul of politics. “Political factors certainly influence UN work, but I hope that in a generation or two, the world will be more just and democratic,” he said.
The UNHRC Gaza probe will include Doudou Diène from Senegal, a former UN special rapporteur on racism, and former New York judge Justice Mary McGowan Davis. She replaces Amal Alamuddin, a UK lawyer who specializes in international law and human rights, who took the decision not to serve on the panel.
Schabas affirmed that the investigation is ready to get underway and that investigators will visit Gaza soon. The committee is expected to send its report to the UNHRC in March 2015.