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04/24/2013

Canada joins outrage over Richard Falk's Boston Marathon comments

Falk UN blog
UN Human Rights Council's Palestine monitor, Richard Falk, gives a speech in Istanbul in 2005. He is at the centre of a controversy over a blog on the Boston Marathon bombings. (Cem Turkel /AFP/Getty Images)

Now it’s Canada’s turn.

As Britain, the U.S. and numerous media bloggers swiped UN special rapporteur Richard Falk for his “anti-Semitic” remarks following the Boston Marathon bombings, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird issued his own statement Wednesday.

“Once again, United Nations official Richard Falk has spewed more mean-spirited, anti-Semitic rhetoric, this time blaming the attacks in Boston on President (Barack) Obama and the state of Israel,” Baird said. “There is a dangerous pattern to Mr. Falk’s…comments. The United Nations should be ashamed to even be associated with such an individual.”

The offending comments -- which steamed up the social media -- came from a lengthy blog written by the 83-year-old Falk, an emeritus professor of Princeton University and international law expert. In a rambling discourse on the aftermath of the bombings, he mused that they might be laid at the feet of the “American global domination project,” which was “bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.”

This, of course, was not what a grieving and fearful nation wanted to hear. And Falk, who is Jewish, added that America’s closeness to Israel and policy on Iran’s nuclear program could spark more attacks, “if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.”

Cue the calls for his ouster as special rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

But from there things get more complicated. And the solution, for his critics, is unclear.

A Wall Street Journal blogger took UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to task for “shirking” his responsibility for “(doing) anything about his Falk problem.” 

Another, at undispatch.com, blamed the Bush administration for allowing Falk to be appointed in the first place.

It’s not the first time the prickly Falk has raised international hackles and brought down calls for his removal. Geneva-based UN Watch, one of his fiercest critics, called on Western countries to repudiate “Falk’s recidivist pattern of indicting America for the acts of jihadi terrorists.”

In a 2011 blog, Falk questioned the “official version” of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was sharply reprimanded by Ban and Washington’s UN ambassador Susan Rice. He wrote earlier pieces maintaining that the U.S. government’s lack of investigation of the event “subtly taints” its legitimacy. Meanwhile his blistering condemnations of Israel’s policies in Gaza outraged its supporters and brought more calls to roll up his rapporteur’s role.

So, you may wonder, with such powerful opposition why is he still serving the last of a six-year term at the UN?

 The answer lies in the complex structure of UN bodies and appointments.

“The key fact is that rapporteurs and experts are appointed in their personal capacities and emphatically do not represent their governments,” says Jeffrey Laurenti of the Century Foundation in New York, an expert in UN machinations. “They are intended to be insulated from political pressures; the political responsibility is that of the states on the council when they decide how to respond to the rapporteur’s reports.”

The 47-member council is made up of country representatives from regional blocs that do not take direction from the West.  Falk was elected by consensus, and can’t be fired by the UN chief or the U.S. government.

Will he be retired at the end of his term next year?

Stay tuned.

Olivia Ward has covered the UN since the early 1990s, as well as international conflicts, human rights and politics, winning national and international awards. She is still struggling to understand how the World Body works.  

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