Authoritarian States Try to Silence Speaker at UN Rights Council: 'He Should Not be Given The Floor'

By Patrick Goodenough | March 25, 2014 | 4:16 AM EDT

Richard Falk, the U.N.'s '“special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.' (UN Photo by Jess Hoffman)

( – At a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday, some of the council’s most authoritarian members tried one by one to get the chair to silence a speaker who evidently was embarrassing the Palestinian delegation.

The representative for the “State of Palestine” himself three times interrupted the speaker, and was then supported by agitated delegates from Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Algeria, Pakistan, Venezuela and Morocco.

Liberal democracies and human rights campaigners consistently denounce the presence of countries with poor human rights records on the U.N.’s top human rights body, but a majority of U.N. member-states continue to usher them into the HRC in elections each year.

Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Algeria are designated “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, while Pakistan, Venezuela and Morocco are graded “partly free.”

Monday’s incident in Geneva occurred during a session in which national delegations and accredited NGOs discussed the final report of Richard Falk, the council’s “special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Falk, an international law scholar at Princeton, has been arguably the most controversial expert ever appointed by the HRC. His harsh critiques of Israel, musings about an “apparent cover up” over the 9/11 terror attacks, and suggestions that the Boston Marathon bombing was an understandable consequence the “American global domination project” prompted calls by the U.S. government and others for his removal.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself criticized Falk and described his 9/11 remarks as “preposterous,” but said his hands were tied as the scholar had been appointed by the HRC, not the U.N. secretariat.

Now Falk is leaving, having served the maximum allowed six years, and on Monday he presented his final report to the HRC in Geneva.

The member state representatives who spoke during the session – the vast majority of them Islamic nations – universally praised Falk. But during the NGO segment some delegates reproached him.

Israel’s antipathy to Falk is well-known: Israel prevented him entry after Falk accused it of war crimes. But U.N. Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer in his statement pointed out that the Palestinian Authority also had been displeased with Falk, and even tried to get him fired for being supportive of Hamas. (Hamas and P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah are longstanding rivals.)

Neuer began reading from a 2010 U.S. diplomatic cable, one of the trove leaked by Wikileaks, in which U.S. diplomats reported on the P.A.’s expressed dissatisfaction with Falk.

Palestinian envoy Ibrahim Khraishi interrupted, asking the chair to call the speaker into line.

The chair, Baudelaire Ndong Ella of Gabon, asked Neuer to stick to the item under discussion, Falk’s final report.

Neuer continued, and twice more was interrupted by Khraishi, who told Ndong Ella, “Perhaps that is how he [Neuer] speaks to his counterparts, but in this forum he must be forbidden from speaking.”

Then other delegations stepped in:

--Saudi Arabia asked the chair “to be firmer.”

--Pakistan said that HRC-appointed experts “should not face undue criticism from those who just want to malign their given mandate.”

--Cuba said if the NGO did not respect the council rules, “we must stop it from continuing.”

--Venezuela said, “We believe that he should not be given the floor.”

--Algeria and Morocco both supported Khraishi’s complaint, and the Saudi envoy made one further point, requesting that the report on the session “make no mention of the statement that we have just heard from that NGO.”

“Richard Falk embodies all that is twisted at the U.N.,” Neuer said from Geneva late Monday. “He’s an educated Western academic who is captivated by anti-Western politics. That odd breed will always find a welcome home at the U.N.”

“I didn’t think it was right for him to leave on a positive note as many hoped. Delegations had no problem praising Falk, but apparently they wouldn’t let me quote criticism of him from [the diplomatic cable leaked by] Wikileaks.”

See earlier stories:

Call for Fire UN Rights Expert After He Again Links Boston Bombing to US Foreign Policies (May 10, 2013)

WH Blasts ‘Highly Biased’ UNHRC Appointee Who Wants Boycott of U.S. Companies (Oct. 26, 2012)

Ban Ki-Moon and U.N. Human Rights Council Face Critical Scrutiny (Jan. 26, 2011)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow