‘Facing the Facts: The Urgent Need for Guidelines in Human Rights Fact-Finding’

By

Professor Gerald Steinberg
Professor of Political Science, Bar Ilan University;
Founder, Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation and President, NGO Monitor

1.30 – 2.30pm, Thursday 6th September 2012

Committee Room 6, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to: emily.banks@henryjacksonsociety.org

One of the most consequential developments in the international arena of the 21st Century has been the relative rise in power of non-state actors.  A broad category ranging in nature from terrorist and criminal networks to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) seeking to promote Human Rights, the effects of the rise of these new actors have been profound.  This is applicable not just in terms of practical application of their nefarious or well intentioned aims, but is reflected also in the moral norms that govern international affairs today.

As a result, NGOs active on Human Rights in conflict zones carry unique weight in international affairs.  Whilst autocracies and dictatorships often see them as little more than an arm of Western intelligence agencies, Western publics deem many of the biggest “brands” of Human Rights NGOs as unassailable promoters of the good in a world of self-interested or even corrupt politicians.  In the age of 24-hour news channels and instant commentary and judgment, these organisations have become the self-appointed guardians of the truth.

Alas, remarkably little has been done to assess the methods and validity of the work of Human Rights NGOs, especially given that one of the key utilities of NGO work in conflict zones is to ostensibly assert a judgment between competing claims by the parties to the conflict.  When NGOs report from what are some of the most challenging fault lines in the world, do they have the resources and perspective to allow them to form accurate views? What standards apply, and who is responsible for assuring compliance? How are they governed?

By kind invitation of Richard Harrington MP, The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University. In what promises to be a well-rounded approach to the topic,  Professor Steinberg will be providing his insights on the development and implementation of the R2P, as well as what the future holds for this most controversial and important of international doctrines. Given the immense clout that the leading Human Rights NGOs have in this public debate, it is essential to have a robust discussion on the nature of their approach to forming the fundamental views that they propagate in policy discussions. Who watches the watchers?


TIME: 1.30 – 2.30pm

DATE: Thursday 6th September 2012

VENUE: Committee Room 6, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

To attend please RSVP to: emily.banks@henryjacksonsociety.org


Biography

Gerald Steinberg is professor of political science at Bar Ilan University; founder of the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation, and president of NGO Monitor, an independent research institute based in Jerusalem. He has addressed the European Parliament and Israeli Knesset, publishes opinion articles in the International Herald Tribune, Ha’aretz, the Wall St. Journal, the Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere, and is a commentator for the BBC, CNN, CBC, and NPR. Recent academic publications include The UN Goldstone Report Reconsidered and Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGO Fact-Finding.

Transcript

Richard Harrington MP

You are known actually as a talkabout – the programme of conflict management – it’s a very very serious programme, and of course today the main thing is that you are the president of the NGO monitor organisation.  Israel is packed with NGOs, it really is.  I’m on the International Development Select Committee and as of yet we have not been to Israel, but I know from all of the correspondence I get that it’s packed with NGOs.  In many cases, totally unaccountable and totally unfavourable to Israel, and not just to Israel but to other – many other countries as well.  It is a sweeping generalisation because they’re not all like that.  But I am very proud to be able to introduce to you and we’re very pleased on behalf of Parliament and behalf of Henry Jackson Society to have you here.

Thank you and just before Gerald starts, the formula will be you’re going to speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, if that’s ok, and then we’ll open the floor to questions in the normal manner.  The speaker is not here, so no shouting.  Thank you.

Professor Gerald Steinberg

Thank you very much and thank you to the Henry Jackson Society for organising this.  Thank you to MP Harrington for chairing and thank you all for coming to listen and hopefully have a discussion of issues I think are extremely important.  I’ve been in meetings of the select committee for international development and I know that in those committee meetings very important issues are discussed with language of morality, allegations of mistreatment, humanitarian aid crises around the world, violations of human rights, mismanagement, and corruption.  And very often at those meetings there are representatives, officials, researchers, publications from organisations, non-governmental organisations, private – civil society organisations as they’re sometimes called, Amnesty International, Oxfam, War on Want, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, the list gets actually very long.  I could spend my entire time and more than that going through the 150 organisations that are not NGO monitor has started to monitor, to examine and to raise questions about.

I want to speak on one specific aspect, which I think gets to the heart of their role, not only here, but in Whitehall, Downing Street and the White House and the State Department, Brussels and many other areas.  They are almost inevitably described as neutral, non-political, universal experts that provide information and analysis so that select committees, budgeting processes, United Nations investigations, journalists can obtain information on these very vital, moral issues.  And what I’d like to do, I usually take an hour and a half to do this, but I’m going to try and do it in less than twenty minutes.  I’d like to present to you some of the questions that need to be asked because it’s very important to always ask for any source of information: is that organisation, is that individual, is that a publication, is that research project – is it credible?  Does it represent, does it reflect consistent methodologies? Are there checks and balances involved?

The thesis that I present to you, the thesis of a book that we recently published – an academic publisher, Nyhof Brill, that is now available for law schools – the thesis is that in fact there is no consistent fact finding methodology that is applied particularly in the areas of international conflict, war zones, the law of war and conflict, terms like war crimes, collective punishment, a vast array of allegations are made in a highly inconsistent and non-expert fashion and – I’m not saying, at least I’m not saying here you should throw out from these precincts Amnesty and Oxfam and others – what I am saying is they should be given the same thorough investigation as anyone else, any source of power, any claimants to information and influence are subjected to.  And I say to journalists who will quote Amnesty International, and I’ll give you some very specific examples, and all the other groups as having this expertise – have you checked out the claims that are made?  This applies to Israeli groups and Palestinian groups, European groups and everybody else.  And if not, why would you think that they are telling you information that is accurate?  Not to mention I’m biased, both in factual terms and equally important in terms of interpretation, because these organisations very often will say this is a violation of international law, a violation of a treaty, a violation of some other agreed upon systematic framework or normative framework – are these used consistently? My answer to you is no, and I will try to present to you in a short period of time some of the evidence.

The goal of this project that I’ve been working on, for essentially for ten years, the goal of the publication, the book that was recently published on fact-finding for methodology, fact-finding for non-governmental organisations – it’s a complicated title – and war areas, the goal is to promote the establishment and implementation of a consistent set of methodologies and expertise that can make these organisations be relied upon and their claims.

I’m going to start just with a very well-known example, but I’ll remind you of it and that is the Amnesty International not just claim, but they were very prominent in making the allegation in the end of 1990, nothing to do with Israel I tend to use a lot of Israeli examples I think Israel is particularly target for these types of distortions, but the claim that was made that 300 babies had been removed from incubators by Iraqi forces in the invasion of Kuwait.  That is precisely the type of allegations that are made, because it pulls the heartstrings.  Babies in incubators were slaughtered by invading barbarians.  It was part of a PR campaign that was sponsored by the Kuwaiti government.  Amnesty International, without being able, it wasn’t that they didn’t just check the facts, they were unable to check the facts, immediately promoted this allegation and gave it legs, gave it credibility because it was no longer a claim that was made by a partisan government, admittedly a government that was under occupation, under great threat, that wanted to rally the Americans and others and allies to go in and attack Saddam Hussein, which they successfully did  – but the way that it was done emphasises or highlights the problems with methodology.  And another problem that came out when they finally did admit four months later that the story didn’t stand up, it was removed from their website, it’s very difficult to find now.  And we see a constant set of issues that are like that.

So what I’m urging is caution.  The chain of evidence, and I’ll give a lot of examples were based in Jerusalem, and I’ll give a lot of examples from our own experience, but the book gives many many other examples – not just confined although I do think that in the case of Israel and the Middle East, as I said these issues are far more pronounced.  These organisations, which have transformed themselves, particularly at the end the Cold war and the end of the Apartheid era in South Africa, they had no more of the agendas that they pursued.  Prisoners of Conscience, Amnesty, which was founded in the 1960s, Human Rights Watch in the 1970s to promote campaigns for the freedom of prisoners of conscience.  It was a very important issue during the Cold War and they ran those campaigns, and at the end of the Cold War they became involved in the Apartheid fight.  By the middle of 1990s they were essentially looking for a new task.  And they became the arbiters, they became the accepted experts on the law of war and conflict, and human rights and conflict zones – particularly in asymmetric warfare where missiles are stored in houses and mosques and churches and schools and fired in some cases where there were children in houses and civilians are used as human shields, it’s the essence of asymmetric warfare and we see it in many parts of the world.  And these organisations have made the claim that they are the experts in terms of the moral and legal aspects of this particularly in counter attacks and you see it in publications and allegations regarding Iraq, Afghanistan and certainly vis a vis Israel.

The NGOs make the claims, they issue detailed reports, very often with press conferences, I’ve been to some of them, and they have one of their officials who is portrayed as an expert talks about all of the claims and the careful research and the footnotes and the examination of all the issues, testimonies are a very strong part of that, and that is picked up by the media, and we’ve often counted within a few hours of a press conference held at, let’s say the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, claiming that Israel was using some sort of illegal weapon or doing things which were a violation of human rights, within a very few minutes you’d see hundreds of media citations across the board, major mainstream media, BBC, Guardian, New York Times across the board that hook that report and gave it a headline with zero value or extra examination of the validity.  From there it goes to the United Nations and the diplomats, it becomes the focus of a parliamentary debate, a demand for a commission of inquiry, a demand for the punishment of the party that was responsible for these terrible violations of human rights, and then of course it comes out in academic publications by my colleagues, without any additional research, verification, questioning the credibility of the sources.

And we see this time after time.  It was a very well established pattern, particularly between the period of 2001 and very recently the last major example was the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla where the headlines are generated before any facts can be checked.  So the chain of evidence becomes very persistent, and I want to emphasise, each of one of these issues I know can be a subject for a long discussion, at least we’ll have time for a short discussion and debate, but Judge Goldstone’s response/retraction, this was in April 2011, the Gaza War took place at the end of 2008, early 2009, Judge Goldstone accepted the position, I won’t go into the people who didn’t accept the decision heading the commission of inquiry, which produced its report in September of 2009, it took him 15 months to acknowledge this report, 500 pages, was almost entirely based on allegations and claims that were made by NGOs.  A list of 36 incidents, all of which were accusations against Israel, was provided by Amnesty International.

Approximately 14 months, 13 months after the report was published, Judge Goldstone acknowledged “if I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone report would have been a different document, the investigations published by the Israeli military recognizing the committees work indicates that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”  That was the conclusion of the Goldstone report, it was an indictment with the recommendation to go to the International Criminal Court that Israel was committing grievous war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians.  Judge Goldstone, 13 months later said, “We got it wrong.”  And the reason they got it wrong was because it was largely based, there were approximately 50 different NGOs that were quoted in hundreds of footnotes in the Goldstone report, and they were not credible reports.  I’m not saying all of them were not credible, I’m saying that they did not have a consistent methodology, they did not examine the details, they went looking for the outcome that they had pre-determined.

Now, again, I could give you many other examples and I’ll give you some specifics in different contexts in a few minutes, but I want to emphasise that the framework that I’m discussing today and that’s the basis for the publication on fact-finding that we produced and the case studies which cover four or five different parts of the world, one on the Congo and Africa, different inquiry commissions, different NGO involvement in reports, different levels of credibility and different sourcing.  One is on the Lebanon war of 2006.  There have been consistent efforts to establish methodological guidelines for investigations of human rights violations and war crimes within the frameworks that I am discussing.  The most comprehensive and the latest example was the Lund-London guidelines of the International Bar Association after a series of meetings, conferences and there are four aspects of that which I think are critical, and which I and others have started to use as a basis for assessing the credibility and reliability of fact-finding investigations.

First of all, who is doing the research?  One of the most disturbing aspects of Amnesty’s reports and publications, is that we don’t know.  In most cases they are not signed.  We don’t know if anybody involved has the qualifications to make the allegations that they’re making.  Was in fact a certain type of weapon actually used because some people said that they saw a certain type of a flash?  Well if you’ve never been in combat, then you don’t know anything about the situation and you can’t tell.  So if they’re not qualified researchers, we know in the case of Human Rights Watch, they put their names on, but in fact, in looking at many of those reports, they’re a senior military analyst for many years, a General by the name of Mark Garlasco, had very questionable qualifications, and a clear bias in the work that he did.  I’ll get to bias in a second.  Well, sorry, bias is part of the first point, because if you’re going in and looking for a particularly guilty party, you will find the evidence, and you will fabricate it for that purpose.

Much of these reports are based on eye-witness testimony.  How is that testimony taken?  Clearly, in a conflict which generates headlines and the part of the conflict is a political war to gain sympathy and support, to be portrayed as the victim.  I’ll skip the Middle East where it’s to me quite obvious, but if you look at the Russian-Georgia war, Sri Lanka, in almost every case there’s a competition to say we are the victims of violence and aggression, war crimes, mass terror.  So you take a testimony and that is clearly part of the process and that’s important to understand the suffering of the people who have been victims of attacks.  But is their evidence credible?  What methodology is used to examine?  Are the claims cross-checked?  If there’s no methodology then what you get is well particular incidents in the Gaza War, the Al-Samouni family incident, we counted 23 different versions given by eye witnesses from that incident.  Quite strong inconsistencies.  We don’t know very much about how the evidence was taken, we know that in one or two cases, in the Goldstone report when they went to interview the witnesses there were people from Hamas standing right there.  And the Lebanon war – any claims that were made in Southern Lebanon in 2006 had to have been inconsistency with Hezbollah.  Nobody moved, now most journalists ignored that.  Nobody moved without Hezbollah’s ok to do that, it was totally controlled by Hezbollah.  The only journalist that I know who said that in most of, or all of, his dispatches was Anderson Cooper from CNN.  But in fact, everything, every eye-witness story whether it was from an NGO or whether it was from a journalist, was based on someone who was given permission, was part of the Hezbollah framework to do that.

Is the process the third point?  Is the process of taking evidence and writing the report transparent?  Is all the evidence made available?  In many many cases we know that critical evidence has been excluded.  The most, for me one of the most obvious examples is the case of Richard Kemp, who has much more experience in combat situations than any of the other people involved in these reports, many of whom have no real experience.

Audience Interruption

Captain

Professor Gerald Steinberg

Sorry?

Richard Harrington MP

Colonel

Audience Interruption

Captain

Professor Gerald Steinberg

Colonel

Richard Harrington

Colonel Richard Kemp.  Unless you were a General.

Professor Gerald Steinberg

British forces in Afghanistan … And his testimony, you cannot find it thanks to the Goldstone commission, you will not find his claims, his analysis, because it differs from the Amnesty or the Human Rights Watch or the other organisations that are involved.  If you are an honest organisation concerned about human rights and accuracy and credibility, you bring all of the evidence and you explain why you chose one variance of the claims against the others.  You don’t systematically exclude narratives and evidence which is not consistent with your conclusions – and double standards, apply the same criteria. 

If the term collective punishment is used over and over again to describe Israeli policy in Gaza, and the same types of policies in terms of blockades, limitations of supplies of materials that can be used for weapons or other purposes are applied in Armenian, Azerbaijan, or in United States and Cuba or many other places in the world, there should be a consistent methodology.  But if you never see term collective punishment used anyplace else, that raises a lot of questions.  So these standards, I think are extremely important in analysing and the absence of these standards in analysing these kinds of reports.

I mentioned some of this before, so this is the specific examples that Marc Garlasco and [indistinct] experienced was the senior military analyst writing many of these reports who was also later shown to have a tremendous bias in his views with many of these issues.  Amnesty International had someone who also had a significant military experience but also got a lot of things we know wrong because he came in with what seems to be a personal political bias.  And as I said, the counter information was systematically ignored.  The example, and I won’t go into this in a lot of detail now, but Human Rights Watch issued I believe 6 reports they said, immediately after the Gaza War they issued 6 reports, 5 of which were going to talk about Israeli war crimes, before they collected the information they already announced what they were going to be writing about.  This is one that entirely, one report – a research report as it’s described – was on the allegations of Israeli use of drones and not taking all feasible precautions.  This was a report that was done in 2009 I believe, now the issue of drone attacks is much more visible, in those days it was largely an Israeli strategy that was used against these types of indiscriminate attacks and rocket launches from Gaza.  It was all based on Palestinian testimonies and essentially the conclusion was that Israel was using some sort of mysterious weapon.

Janes and others who had real expertise on the ground said this was not a credible analysis.  A full report, press conference and big publicity wave on the basis of that, all based on speculation, because there was no evidence.  And this was not an Israeli speak, this was not a member of the Israeli government or part of the Israeli lobby – this was by someone who has not horse in that race, but was looking at the statistics, at the technical analysis that was provided.  There are many examples that we have of this, I’ll just say a quick example from the Lebanon war of 2006 because it was so critical.  I have looked, by the way, a colleague and I have looked at every page written by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch on the Lebanon war.  In many many cases, what you see is 5, 6, 7 different versions of the same event, and I just want to focus on one because I think it’s so poignant.

On July 29/30th depending on which time zone you’re in, Human Rights Watch blasted across media, diplomatic and other vehicles the allegation headlines that Israel had bombed a house, a building had collapsed, killing dozens of civilians.  This was a war crime because there was no legitimate military target.  In Israel, the Prime Minister, as soon as those headlines came out, realizing the implications of that politically, ordered a 48 hour halt in air activity – which had a major impact on the war.  In my view, I say this strictly on a personal basis there are others who have similar or different views, extended the war and caused more casualties – it allowed Hezbollah to regroup and launch more deadly rocket attacks increasing Israeli responses.  Within 24 hours, Human Rights Watch had immediately said we’re down to 28, and who was the information from?  They did not have any people on the ground with the capability of independently investigating what happened in this particular housing condominium.  They had nobody on the ground who could say whether or not that immediate area was being used as it was, and here I fault the Israeli government because it took them a number of weeks to produce the videos or to make the videos public, it showed the rockets coming up from this area in Southern Lebanon.  A year later, the number was revised and less important than the number was the fact that admission that some of these coffins, and we don’t know if this was a staged photo or not although I have my suspicions but it’s not possible to tell, this was the cover of their report that was published August 1st.  A report, the size of a A4 letterhead paper, “Fable Strikes” it was called with coffins you see the emotive impact of this kind of publicity campaign.  Some of these coffins, if this was a real picture, or some of the people that were buried might well have been Hezbollah fighters in the region and there is no question, even Human Rights Watch acknowledges it was a legitimate military target.  The civilians that were killed, and we don’t know how many, were accidental victims in a response to a deadly missile attack which killed a number of Israelis.  It was not a war crime by any means, but the immediate response was this was a terrible war crime.

I do not know how any organisation, how any individual who is not on the ground and even if people are on the ground, can within a few hours of an exchange of deadly military attacks can declare that they understand what happened.  And one of the biggest problems that I have and one of the major claims that we make in examining the role of NGOs is their inability to say: “We don’t know.”  In a war time situation I served in the military, many many students, faculty, friends, family who served in the military – it’s a very unpleasant occupation, a part of life.  But the people on the ground very often themselves don’t know what happened immediately.  Because it’s the fog of war.  It’s very chaotic.  You see a small part of what’s going on around you, and to put the pieces together is a very painstaking investigate process to sort it all out.  To immediately come out with major headlines and accusations, in most cases will lead to false claims.  And part of the problem is that the journalists, as I said earlier, the journalists the others that use as diplomats, all diplomats, Condoleezza Rice would base her condemnations and allegations, sometimes called the CNN effect because of these types of reports, and that’s exactly what the Israeli Prime Minister was reacting to in this case, it was the realization that would had or will draw a rebuke and become a political crisis.  Learn to be more careful in analysing the NGO claims.

The A) they are usually not based on expertise, knowledge, information that’s verifiable.  B) they tend very often to erase the context, when you’re being fired on by hundreds of rockets that are launched from cities and mosques and schools and other places, you need to defend your population.  One of the major debates that I have with the serious people in the human rights world and there are many of them or in Oxfam and humanitarian aid organisations is if everything is a war crime, if everything is illegal, if everything is wrong, how do you defend your population against these kinds of deadly attacks?  And unless you have a solution, it becomes a serious problem.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t criticise, but you should acknowledge the complexity of finding a solution when the original cause of this kind of exchange is precisely the violation of international law by placing deadly weapons and combat personnel and others, terrorists, inside the civilian areas.

The distorted and false claims of international humanitarian law and other things, I use the example of collective punishment to debate about whether Gaza was still occupied.  These are all political allegations.  There are no real court, or maybe we can debate this later, where one can say there is a body of cases, there is due deliberation, that they’re duly constituted in a consistent manner the way we have in domestic courts in countries like the UK and the United States and Israel.  International law is far more soft and flexible and manipulated.  The selective use of data, double standards – these are all things that we’ve seen consistently, these are more examples where journalists who have simply taken the allegations and put them on the front page – we can skip them.  I want to get to a couple of recent examples, one of the bigger problems we have with Amnesty, very blatant, is their Israel researchers – and I think in this case the Middle East is different and Israel in particular is treated differently.  China, Asia, Africa, you don’t have the same political agenda that forms and molds the way in which the organisations functions.  The methodologies are different.

But in the case of Israel, the three most prominent people involved in writing the reports as of relatively recent are all three people with very strong political biases.  Deborah Hyams, one of their Israel researchers was a human shield in 2002.  This was not someone if you want to have somebody to be taken seriously, take someone who has never expressed themselves politically on the Middle East – one way or the other – and then you’ll be taken seriously.  But if the person has a clear bias from the beginning, then what they do is always going to be seen as biased.  Saleh Jihazi was a member of the PLO and their political public relations office, Christian Benedict, the campaign manager, has often expressed himself in ways which are extremely hostile to Israel.  And as a result, what we see not just of recent but throughout history, you can see the number of reports criticising Israel, 588 pages we’ve looked at every page Amnesty has produced, and what’s amazing to me is that these are very powerful actors who have never been subjected to serious independent research, examination of what they do.  So we took [indistinct] of all of their reports and put it through a computer, how many times their reports focused on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  If you look at Syria, this was for 6 years, 67 pages – 1/9 when rebellion against the Assad regime broke down, where the volume, the number of human rights atrocities was far greater than anything involving Israel and the Palestinians in the past 6, 7, 10 years.  They had nobody to do that, they didn’t even have staff.  They don’t have any connections.  In Libya, the same thing was also the case.  So you see, the largest focus except for Israel, the largest focus of Amnesty’s intention was Iraq, but that wasn’t because of Iraqis, it was because of coalition forces that were operating there.

I’ll raise one other example – actually you know, if it comes up I’ll leave it for Q&A and move on.

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much.  Who would like to ask the first question?  Would you be happy to take three questions together and then answer them, because I think we’ve got quite a lot of people.

Question 1

My name is David Jacobs, and I have for many years defended Israel as a member of the United Nations Association, one of the NGOs.  A question that I would like to ask is an organisation like Amnesty International has in the past, in many cases, done excellent work and goes on doing that, but they’re completely undermined by the evidence you have given and from what I was already aware of on an anti-Israel bias when somebody who knows or conceals his bias on Israel, then everything else they do is also undermined.  How do we handle these situations and how do we – their position has been ruined by what they’ve been doing – how do we handle it?

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you sir, Professor you’ve got that.  Number two sir.

Question 2

Thank you very much.  My name is Tim Horgan.  Professor, you have totally misquoted Judge Goldstone, he has not retracted, he has retracted once a small part about the Israeli decision that they did not target civilians specifically, but he has said six days after his op ed piece that his report still stands and it had the letter of a very experienced army officer Colonel Desmond Travers who has lived in Israel and you have misquoted Colonel Travers, he has never signed or declared a bias against Israel and how does that [indistinct]completely neutral.

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much sir.

Question 2

So you are disproving Colonel Travers and you misquoted Christian Benedict who I know quite well. 

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much indeed.  You’ve got those Professor, and thank you – and to remind these two gentlemen if you wouldn’t mind giving your names and any organisation it might help for afterwards if there’s any correspondence.

Professor Gerald Steinberg

What was your name sir?

Question 2

Tim Horgan. H-O-R-G-A-N.

Richard Harrington MP

Mr Tim Hogan – you have no need to give an organisation but if you work for one I think it’d be nice to do that.  Thank you. Sir.

Question 3

My name is [indistinct due to someone speaking next to the microphone 32:53] I’m not a member of any organisation in any directive sense, but I am a supporter and have been for a very long time of Amnesty [indistinct due to someone speaking next to the microphone 33:01] and I agree with the Professor entirely that the respectability of any piece of research is largely determined by the quality of its methodology and there is scope in all of his cases to improve his methodology, I can see that.   The other story remains that the piece of research which is not directly concerned with military matters but it does relate with the state of Israel and how it treats its population, its Palestinian population.  I refer to an analysis, a very respectable, well-documented analysis of Israeli schoolbooks, which spun that the Palestinians were generally presented as men with camels, no sign of doctors or lawyers or professionals, they were diminished.  I don’t want to draw on previous comparisons but it does seem to me that the vulgarity and the course of the society, [indistinct 33:58] I might say that this particular piece of research was done by a lady, the professor of education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I wanted to draw the comparison to ask the Professor.

Richard Harrington MP

If you wouldn’t mind, just as quick as you could – it’s not to shut you up, it’s just we’ve got a lot of people to get to.

Question 3

And the comparison that comes to mind is [indistinct] with Julius strikers in [indistinct} storm, and that was of course in the Nazi era in Germany.  I by no means suggest that [indistinct]

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much, that’s three questions Gerald.

Professor Steinberg

I will try to answer them in order, Mr Jacobs comments I think is very much to the point that when an organisation, even if only part it is shown to be unprofessional, biases, lacking of expertise, it brings the entire organisation down with it.  Amnesty is for different reasons in a state of crisis now the issue of the forcing out of its gender head, Gita Sahgal, because she objected to the alliance with the Taliban.  Economic, or rather financial corruption scandal with the end of Irene Khan’s era and other things, all of which has been quite well documented.  So I think the organisation is being infected and in general, when an organisation has this much funding and power it does not have a means of checks and balances.  I mean, we’re sitting in Parliament, this is the home of checks and balances, of speaking truth to power.  These organisations have gained a great deal of power but have not developed mechanisms for checks and balances, so my recommendation apart from producing these types of academic and other research projects is to the organisations for their own good need to establish internal and transparent forms of checks and balances.

Mr Hogan’s question about the Goldstone report, I suggest very strongly that you read – you have your view I can tell you that you’re completely wrong, absolutely, totally false, Mr Travers has no knowledge of anything approaching military combat at all, he is extremely biased.  Christian Benedict, I put before you the quotes that I happen to have here, everybody in the room can make their own decisions as to who is biased and what constitutes bias, we disagree completely, I think Mr Goldstone, who has not pronounced a word about his report as I recall and I follow very closely and have been in direct contact with him.  If you don’t like the word retraction, certainly it applies to what he wrote in the Washington Post as an op ed article under great pressure saying “I was wrong, I didn’t have the evidence”.  The fact that his other three members of the mission had their bias reinforced and refused to join him I think tells us a lot about them.

The last point that was made, I do not respond to anybody who even raises the comparison of the Nazis in any other format.  I have nothing to say.   No, I have nothing to say, I suggested anybody who is serious about textbooks in the Middle East can read them and compare them and not take one particular study which is extremely controversial out of context.

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you, the next three questions.  We’ll have no one from over here, so you sir.  I’m trying to be fair about this.  The next person from over here, anybody from over here?  Well perhaps two from over here, the lady at the back, and yourself madam if that’s ok.  So we’ve got three people then you the next batch if that’s ok.  We’re fine and we’ve got 20 minutes.  Thank you. 

Question 4

[indistinct] Concerning the Goldstone Report –

Professor Steinberg

Could you just give me your name?

Question 4 (continued)

[indistinct] that’s F-A-L-E-K concerning the Goldstone Report and retraction and obviously the different views on that, what might have Israel have done differently when Richard Goldstone was collecting his evidence which led to his initial report?  But which perhaps Israel has gained from because without question there are going to be lots and lots of other investigations and allegations.

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much sir, I think I was a little unfair to the gentlemen behind you, because I actually meant him, so if we don’t mind squeezing – it’s fine if we could squeeze you in as well and then you two ladies.  If you don’t mind doing four?

Professor Steinberg

I’ll try, that’s it though – I can’t do more than four.

Question 5

Charles Garraway, Vice President of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission, with a good [indistinct] treaty body not an NGO.  I have a slightly different concern, which I think supports your arguments to a considerable extent.  There is a world of difference between human rights [indistinct] where the result, the root of the right is the critical factor.  And the law of conflict, where the rule of proportionality means that it is the expectation of the attacked or the attacked organisation that is critical.  Do you consider there is serious risk now on having conflict fact-finding conducted on human rights standards?

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you sir, the lady in the back.  Sorry to point.

Question 6

[indistinct]

Richard Harrington MP

I’m sorry –

Professor Steinberg

I can’t hear you, and if you would just give me 30 seconds to make sure that I remember the previous questions.  Ok, I may have to get Mr Garraway to repeat part of what he said at the end.

Richard Harrington MP

And if you wouldn’t mind giving us your name please.

Question 6 (continued)

I’m Jamilla.

Richard Harrington MP

Jamilla, hi.

Question 6 (continued)

I perfectly agree, absolutely actually with most of the points you made about the NGOs and them being biased, so my question is what source would you describe as being credible?

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you, and congratulations on the brevity of your question madam.  The lady in the grey suit.

Question 7

My name is Natasha [indistinct] and I’m a law student, and focusing mainly on the fact-finding of things happening on the ground and the processes by which they happen, but the additional aspect you mentioned briefly I think was the understanding of international law which is so often so misrepresented by so many of these NGOs, perhaps pre-meditated on their own  [indistinct] they can’t understand themselves, my question is how do we combat that misunderstanding and what is the subject and to ensure that each representative .. . [trails off]

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you, so that’s a good batch Professor.

Professor Steinberg

What very serious questions, which I will not do justice to in my responses. But they all do touch on important aspects of this.  Starting off with – I’ll say one quick word about Richard Falk before I talk about the Goldstone Report – Richard Falk is in many ways what is so immoral about the United Nations, I have been, the best term I can use is ‘trash talk’ attacked by Mr Falk in his blog for having exactly – for making exactly this kind of presentation.   It’s foul language, certainly not appropriate to someone who claims to promote human rights and the fact that he is still employed in some official capacity by the United Nations I think, is in itself, a black mark against the human rights council.

What could have Israel done differently? I should have made a big pause before that, but in terms of the Gaza war and the investigation.  I will say what Israel has done differently since then and specifically in terms of the 2010 Free-Gaza flotilla, the Mavi Marmara where there were a number of deaths and it was another issue of accusations of war crimes in which NGOs played a critical role.  Israel then said we will cooperate with an investigation that we are involved in setting up, that has a fair mandate, a balanced mandate, and is not run by the human rights council who’s agenda and appointments are controlled by the organisation of the Islamic conference I believe it’s called now – the OIC.  Oh and another point that Mr Goldstone made afterwards and if you look you’ll see this repeated in many of his statements was the mandate was a) itself unbalanced and b) the UN human rights council was extremely biased so he never should have accepted the mandate in the first place as Mary Robinson refused to do at the time.  What Israel said is we will cooperate, the Secretary General then set up an inquiry commission for the Mavi Marmara, Israel cooperated completely with that.  The report, we submitted evidence, others groups submitted evidence to it and the report I think had far more substance and was taken more credibly by many of the actors in the international community than was in the case of the Goldstone report, so I think lessons have been learned that one can say these terms are not acceptable, these terms will be acceptable and negotiate for terms which do not reflect the kind of problems we discussed as opposed to the simply flat no we won’t cooperate with Goldstone.

The – [interrupted] sorry? Oh no, I still have Mr Garraway’s point.  I prefer the term military necessity, proportionality is a very – I’m not even going to go through that now – but military necessity, it needs to be looked at very carefully.  The judgements that are made about intentionality are critical, they are – are you deliberately – I think that gets to the basis of your question – and there that’s probably a good point that I should have emphasised in my presentation – when you accuse, when you make claims of war crimes, violations of international law, particularly a law of war and conflict, then you attribute intentionality – under what conditions is intentionality determined?  That is extremely difficult, yes if someone is standing – how far are we, 5 or 6 meters away with a gun killing people – well then you can attribute intentionality.  If you are –

Interrupted by audience question

[Indistinct] talking – answers your question?  Israeli [indistinct] said he was targeting civilians and from now on –

Professor Steinberg

I really would prefer to not be interrupted, particularly when the claims have no basis. [further interruption] How good is your – you know, I could spend a good half an hour even quizzing you if you speak any Hebrew at all, so if you’re taking third party [further indistinct interruption]

Richard Harrington MP

May I suggest sir, if there’s any time left at the end, then happily

Professor Steinberg

I mean, this is precisely the problem that we have to deal with.

Richard Harrington MP

But anyway, gentlemen …

Professor Steinberg

So I think those are extremely important questions and it’s exactly that type of distinction which needs to be made which I think also gets – and I’m going to get back to Jamilla’s question in a second – but I would say in the response to your question the issues that we are discussing need to be far more debated in law schools, in conferences, in parliaments elsewhere that international law is not cut and dry and not determined by a few self-appointed officials from these organisations –it’s far more complex and to have that debate is critical.  And we are in fact having that debate in different places and different contexts and it needs to be expanded.  It did not happen for 10 or 15 years while this body of law was largely being developed in such complex situations.  A lot of the law was adapted from army to army, World War I/World War II type of situations, trying to adapt it to asymmetric conflict is extremely complex, so we need to have much more of this debate.

Jamilla, I don’t have a good answer for your question about what is credible.  It is perhaps the most difficult question to do, because I said that to know what happens on the ground in a combat situation – my, one of the points that I make when I am critical of the Israeli government, and I am often very critical of what it does, is that it has information which for – that very junior people who don’t see the big picture will not release, so there is a lot of technical information from video cameras and elsewhere which often sits in warehouses and/or on computers which are classified, and the people who look at it don’t realise how important it is in order to get the information out there – and that I think is critical to realise the age in which we’re living where if you don’t put your own information out there, it will be overwhelmed by other information.  I think that’s part of it, I think we need to train people who are able to look at this type of situation and recognise what they can determine and also what the limitations are so that bad information does not drive out good information.  It’s a long process, I think it is something that is really a professional capability that needs to be developed further – so I agree – the question is much better than any answer I could give you.

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you, I think we have finished this particular batch of questions so let’s perhaps have another four – giving priority to over here, just because nobody asked last time – but you sir, that’s fine for one, number two if that’s alright with you sir, anybody like the third question?  And the lady just on the – you can be third madam if that’s ok.  Thank you.

Question 8

You talked a lot about the problem with information from NGOs because this information is collected in less than ideal conflict situations and I was wondering how collectable the methodology do you prefer  [indistinct] and in what situation do you prefer no information to [indistinct].

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you sir and yourself please?

Question 9

My name is Jimmy Anderson, US citizen, not connected to any groups, I’m curious as to what extent, if any, the United States government is providing funding and/or giving reliance to the conclusions of these NGOs and if there is any of this are they requiring any foundation or credible evidence as to these reports before giving such funding or reliance?

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you very much Mr Anderson – and the lady just behind you please.

Question 10

[Indistinct] I would like to query the chronology of the [indistinct] when they [indistinct] terrorist organisations, [indistinct] particularly of the PMLI who were [indistinct] terrorist organisation and various governments who were on that list and who were taken to court to clear that up.  America is still relying on courts to [indistinct].

Richard Harrington MP

Thank you.

Professor Steinberg

I’m not quite sure, let me start with the Richard’s – well there are two Richard’s, but the first Richard in the back –

Richard Harrington MP

Yes.

Professor Steinberg

The – I don’t know if you used the term, or if I wrote in my notes “less than ideal situation” – that’s an understatement, a very good British understatement.  The NGO response – and to be fair I should say what we often hear from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and Oxfam and others – and the situations are somewhat different that they’re dealing with but – and we lose nuance – first of all I want to say that there are different NGOs and in some of the other questions I’ll talk about that – I’m talking about specific groups and specific circumstances and there are differences.  Their responses that when there is a humanitarian crisis or a potential genocide or other violations that it’s urgent to get that information out immediately.  And we may not always get it right but if we don’t say anything then the killing and the tragedies will become worse.  I don’t reject that out of hand, but I do think that there has to be some sort of balance between the rush to be the first in the news and clearly in many of these cases there is already media attention, there is already governmental attention, there are already UN bodies examining the situation, and then it becomes a competition.  And I’ve seen it at the United Nations that the NGO activities at the UN Human Rights Commission and then Council, where there is very intense competition to be the first to break a story, to get the headlines in order to generate the publicity, in order to generate the donor attention and further funding.  It’s a business and it’s part of the business side, it needs to be taken down a couple of levels and the humility of saying ‘we think that there is a humanitarian danger out there,’ it’s also a crying wolf situation – there’s been too many cases where they have made accusations which later on they had to pull back on.

There’s far too few, far too few resources are devoted, and nobody knows what to do about a lot of the massacres that take place in Africa.  And so they divert resources to issues which are already, there’s some very detailed study of how these organisations globally assign resources.  The slide I showed you from Amnesty and Ramos and Rohan if I’m in academic circles I will say those are the two authors of the study where they took the entire gamut of Human Rights Watch reports and I believe something similar with Amnesty, and they showed how closely it followed the news cycle or led the news cycles – so if Africa is not in the news, then they’re not – and they don’t know what to do about the situation in Africa then they’re not going to report on the atrocities that take place in Africa.  So the best I can tell you is to be, that it’s important to be aware of the limitations that exist and at each stage try to provide the information in a timely manner but also recognising the limitation of the credibility so if you have eye witnesses talking about a – they come to you and tell you they’ve seen a massacre taking place in a certain place – now with technology you can often get satellite imaging, commercial satellite imaging, or public service satellite imaging within 24 hours and verify or not or refute the claims that are made.  So I think there are ways to deal with this more seriously – I don’t claim that it’s easy.

Mr Richard Anderson, the question of the United States and I’m going to broaden the question a little bit.  I do think that there are many governments that do provide funding for these organisations that are not careful enough and I include that in the case of the British government and the European Union in examining the – whether they’re getting value for their money, whether they are getting what they are promised to be delivered.  The US is – I would say, I want to be very careful sitting in the Parliament here, I think the US has historically been more careful in the separation, there is no tradition of the United States giving money to non-governmental political organisations.  They do not to the best of my knowledge provide any funding for US-based organisations like Human Rights Watch as distinct from British government funding or European funding that goes to organisations like Christian Aid and others.  The outsourcing of humanitarian aid and human rights is more common both in the UK and in Europe and I will make that distinction while I’m in here.

One example that I think the British government should take a closer look at is funding for an organisation, a wonderful sounding organisation, called Defence for Children International – Palestinian section or Palestine section, DCIPS, which has issued reports very recently with allegations funded by the FCO, with the FCO in premature of allegations about Israeli mistreatment of Palestinian children.  Those reports are extremely flimsy and we’ve written the detailed analysis of it and talked to the British ambassador about that, and these types of political, politically motivated and led NGO activities under the rubric of or the banner of human rights need to be examined carefully because the groups are funded by government and report back to governments, and there is in most cases no independent analysis of the context, the credibility of these reports and DCIPS is just one example of that.  So I think there should be more attention paid as I said, I think the US taxpayers are less involved in that type activity for historic reasons in the United States government.

Finally, Ms Rose I think, yes? The ecology of the legal bodies, I’m going to give you one example, because I think again the question is a good one of the way in which the questions, the analysis are framed, I’ll use that for the ecology question.  In 2002, there were hundreds of Israelis that were killed, thousands that were injured by mass suicide bombing attacks against buses and cafes and others.  And Human Rights Watch issued numerous condemnations, which then went to the United Nations, of Israeli allegations of Israeli war crimes in that period.  They did not issue a single report until November of 2002 on these terrible attacks that were being made against Israeli children and all the other areas that I described.  And we ask them why not?  We and others ask them why not, and its available on film, on news reports, they said well international humanitarian law – I think it was a reference to that – does only applies to states, and the PLO is not a state.  If you’re a moral body, using that legal excuse to avoid serious criticism of an organisation that has/is responsible for massive human rights violations just destroys ones credibility.  And they realised that by the end of 2002, Amnesty followed shortly afterwards.  But there was a full year where there was a vacuum based on this very thin legal excuse.

Richard Harrington MP

Professor, I’m going to have to stop you now, because they’re quite strict on us here, on the use of the room and it’s not because of what you were saying – but on behalf of everybody here I’d like to thank you very much for coming and thank you very much for everyone’s questions.  It’s terrible when you hear something and no one ever asks and I had to have some questions in my head – but it wasn’t the case with you.  Thank you very much.

HJS



Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here