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UNHRC appoints new chair of Gaza probe

Santiago Canton, the newly appointed chair of the Gaza probe [Wikipedia]
Santiago Canton, the newly appointed chair of the Gaza probe [Wikipedia]

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) yesterday appointed a new chair of its Gaza probe after the previous chair resigned just one month into the role.

The new appointee, Santiago Canton, replaces senior American legal official David Crane, who was appointed to head the probe in July. However, after serving barely a month of his term, Crane resigned citing personal circumstances. Speculation as to the reasons behind his resignation were rife, with the Times of Israel noting that “he reportedly felt compelled to leave after it emerged that he had previously advised the Israeli government”.

The Gaza probe, officially called the “Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” will investigate Israeli violence against Palestinian protesters taking part in the Great March of Return in the besieged Gaza Strip since March. According to its mandate, the commission will “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” with particular focus on the “military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018”. The Commission is expected to present its results before March 2019.

Canton, who is of Argentinian origin, has previously worked on human rights abuses in Latin America and was the director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights. He also worked as a political assistant to Jimmy Carter, who served as president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He will join two other legal experts of Bangladeshi and Kenyan origin on the Commission.

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Israel has sought to deny responsibility for the killing of more than 150 Palestinian protesters during the Great March of Return, which reached a crescendo in May when the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem. In July, an internal investigation by the Israeli military concluded that all those killed “died as a result of operational mishaps” and that “weapons fire was carried out in accordance with open-fire orders”. The report of the investigation’s findings claimed that “demonstrators intruded into the line of fire after troops had opened fire and [there were] incidents in which bullets ricocheted, subsequently hitting Palestinians”.

Although the UNHRC voted overwhelmingly to undertake the probe, the move was vehemently criticised by Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the probe as “irrelevant,” stating that: “The organisation that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror.” Israel has increasingly shunned cooperation with UN bodies, in 2017 opting to leave the UN’s cultural wing UNESCO after it voted to recognise Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque as a Palestinian heritage site.

The USA has also supported Israel’s position on the UNHRC, in June 2018 opting to leave the council. America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed the organisation a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” citing its “chronic bias against Israel” as a key reason for the decision. The US withdrawal was widely condemned, with Moroccan human rights activist and the first Arab woman to receive the UN Human Rights Award, Khadija Al-Ryadi, labelling the move arrogant.

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