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UN Chief Condemns Investigator on Palestine

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Lisa Schlein

U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday sharply criticized the U.N. expert on Palestine for suggesting the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States were orchestrated by the U.S. government.  The U.N. chief criticized the official in a speech before the body's Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It is very rare for the U.N. chief to publicly criticize one of the organization's own officials.  And he seemed dismayed by remarks made by the U.N. expert on Palestine, Richard Falk, who cast doubt on al-Qaida's role in the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

In his speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged it was up to the council to decide whether the experts it appoints should continue in their jobs.  

He said he respected the independence of the investigators, but Mr. Ban added that he could not condone irresponsible behavior that undermines the council and the United Nations.

"Recently, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967 suggested there was an 'apparent cover-up' in the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States," said Ban.  "I want to tell you, clearly and directly, I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric.  It is preposterous, an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic terrorist attack."  

The expert, Princeton University Professor Emeritus Richard Falk, was appointed by the Human Rights Council to report on Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories in March 2008.  He has been criticized by Israel, and by Jewish and human rights groups for his controversial views.

Mr. Ban's comments came on the eve of a U.S. Congressional hearing about the U.N. Human Rights Council, which frequently has been criticized for its alleged bias against Israel.

The Secretary-General told council members that it was their responsibility to uphold the highest standards of the United Nations and of the council at all times.

"We cannot be selective in promoting human rights," added Ban.  "We must address the full spectrum of rights with equal force - civil, cultural, economic, social and political.  Put simply, our watchword should be: 'all people, all countries, all rights.'  But more must be done to fully rise above national and regional interests.  If this council is to deliver on the promise of its founding, you must go beyond narrow considerations."

The U.N. chief noted the Human Rights Council was created to replace and to redress the shortcomings of the Human Rights Commission. Mr. Ban intimated that the council could meet a similar fate, if it does not conduct itself in an impartial, fair manner.

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