The head of a UN inquiry into last summer’s Israeli military offensive in Gaza has said he will resign after Israeli allegations of bias, due to consultancy work he did for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).William Schabas, a Canadian academic, was appointed last August by the head of the UN Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into war crimes during the offensive.
Al Ray reports that, according to the Guardian and in a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March.
Schabas’ departure highlights the sensitivity of the UN investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the international criminal court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into atrocities committed in the Palestinian territories.
In the letter, Schabas said that a legal opinion he authored for the PLO in 2012, and for which he was paid some $1,300 (£900), was not different from advice he had given to many other governments and organizations.
“My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” he wrote. “This work in defence of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks.”
Israel has long criticized Schabas’ appointment, citing his record as a strong critic of ‘the Jewish state’ and its current political leadership. Schabas said his work for the PLO had prompted the Human Rights Council’s executive to seek legal advice about his position from UN headquarters on Monday.
“I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” he wrote, adding that the commission had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report.
The appointment of Schabas, who lives in Britain and teaches international law at Middlesex University, was welcomed at the time by Hamas but was harshly criticized by Jewish groups in the US.
Schabas, at the time, had said that he was determined to put aside any views about “things that have gone on in the past”.
The commission is looking into the behavior of both the Israelis and of Hamas.