Israeli Authorities Detain, Expel U.N. Human Rights Envoy

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 16, 2008

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 15 -- Israeli authorities detained a U.N. human rights envoy for more than 20 hours at the Tel Aviv airport before expelling him, putting him on a plane bound for Los Angeles, U.N. officials said Monday.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed "regret" over the action and said the United Nations had notified Israel in advance of American Richard Falk's plans to visit. "One doesn't expect a U.N. special rapporteur to find himself in that position," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville.

The Israeli mission to the United Nations defended the decision, saying that Falk had been repeatedly warned that a visit would not be welcome.

Falk, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, has a long history of criticizing Israel, and Israel contended that his mandate, which provides him with the authority to examine only Israeli abuses against Palestinians, is fundamentally unfair.

The expulsion came to light hours before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in New York to attend a high-level meeting of the Middle East Quartet, the group orchestrating Middle East peace efforts. Rice used the meeting of representatives of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations as a platform from which to defend U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East.

The gathering was further overshadowed by the United Nations' General Assembly President, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, who decried Israel's treatment of Falk and blamed the country's diplomats for inciting death threats against him.

D'Escoto, of Nicaragua, said the death threats followed "malicious" media reports alleging that he sought to bar Israel's U.N. ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, from commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights before the General Assembly.

Israeli and European diplomats said Shalev was scheduled to address the General Assembly as one of five representatives of the United Nations' five regional groups, but D'Escoto abruptly canceled the representatives' speeches. He reversed himself, but only after allowing a much broader slate of speakers, including some of Israel's sharpest critics, to speak to the General Assembly.

Mirit Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Israeli mission, said D'Escoto's actions were part of a pattern of anti-Israeli behavior. Last month, the president compared Israel to the South African apartheid regime and called for a boycott of the Jewish state, Cohen noted.

"The role of the President of the General Assembly should be to unite the international community and promote shared interests and values," Cohen said. "However, since his first days as President of the General Assembly, Mr. D'Escoto has been divisive and controversial, abusing his position."

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