Richard Goldstone doesn’t know when to quit. Two years ago, the South African former judge led a United Nations fact-finding inquiry into the Israel-Gaza conflict. The resulting report — widely dubbed the Goldstone Report — was so slanted against Israel that it was denounced by the Obama administration as “deeply flawed” and by the House of Representatives as “irredeemably biased.” This past April, Goldstone himself, chief author of the report, finally confessed to a few mistakes, including allegations that Israel as a matter of policy had committed war crimes.
Now Goldstone has found a new mission. He is chairing a private panel to vet candidates for six judgeships soon coming open on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Any anti-Israel bias there could have grave results.
Launched in 2002 and housed in The Hague, the ICC is a treaty-based organization, open to U.N. member states, which prosecutes individuals for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was spawned by the U.N., but it operates independently, collectively overseen by the countries that have submitted to its jurisdiction. Currently 116 states have signed on to this arrangement, but the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel, which has not joined, or the Palestinian territories, which have not qualified. Palestinian officials have nonetheless been seeking ways to have Israelis hauled before the ICC. Should the Palestinians succeed in their bid to join the U.N. as a member state, one result could be ICC prosecutions of Israelis before some of the judges whose qualifications Goldstone’s panel is now assessing.
The choices just ahead, coupled with the impending election of a new ICC prosecutor, could do plenty to shape the character of the ICC for most of the next decade. The ICC seats 18 judges, with six due to step down in March. To replace them, the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties will meet this December, at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York, to elect six new judges, who will all serve nine-year terms, from 2012 to 2021. The ICC currently lists a slate of 19 candidates, from countries including — to name a few — Niger, Nigeria, Poland, Mexico, France, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, the United Kingdom, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Into this process comes Richard Goldstone, courtesy of a nonprofit initiative, with addresses in New York and The Hague, called the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, or CICC. As it has turned out, the ICC and its Assembly of State Parties have no procedure for checking the qualifications of individual candidates against the criteria for ICC judges. Last December the CICC announced it would fill that gap by setting up “a panel of independent experts to assess the candidates.”
In March, the CICC’s judge-vetting panel held its inaugural meeting, tapping Goldstone to be its chairman. Somehow, Goldstone’s new role escaped notice by the press. Nor did Goldstone mention his new mission when, nine days later, writing in the Washington Post, he published his quasi-apology for the Goldstone Report. Nor has he responded this past week to my e-mailed queries about his role with the CICC.
Officially, Goldstone’s panel has no power to dictate anything regarding the ICC; it can only advise. But at the CICC, Goldstone has embedded himself amid a clique of former U.N. officials well versed in working the system, and in some cases used to working together. For instance, the CICC’s 14-member advisory board includes one of Goldstone’s three co-authors of the Goldstone Report, Pakistani lawyer Hina Jilani. Following Goldstone’s walk-back in April, she defended the report as an important document that nothing can invalidate.
The advisory board also includes Goldstone himself, and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour — who in 2006 used her U.N. pulpit to protest the execution of Saddam Hussein, and in 2008 welcomed an anti-Semitic Arab-rights charter, before waffling away from it under public criticism.
The five-member “Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections” includes a Chilean former judge, Cecilia Medina Quiroga. She’s a veteran of a pre-Goldstone U.N. fact-finding mission dispatched by the Human Rights Council to Gaza which also included a British lawyer who later was another co-author of the Goldstone Report, Christine Chinkin.
Two other panel members have served as judges for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where Goldstone in the mid-1990s was chief prosecutor. They are South Korean former justice O-Gon Kwon (still serving on the near-eternal Yugoslavia tribunal) and an American former judge, Patricia Wald, former chair and current member of the board of George Soros’s Open Society Justice Initiative.
The fifth panel member is a Swedish lawyer, Hans Corell, who served as legal counsel to the U.N. from 1994 to 2004. Under former secretary-general Kofi Annan, Corell was heavily involved in the creation of the ICC. He also had a hand in the creation and management of the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food Program, a relief plan so badly designed, so mismanaged, and so globally corrupt that Annan was finally forced in 2004 to call for a special inquiry — in which Goldstone served as a member of a three-man panel, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. The committee exonerated Annan of deliberate wrongdoing, but not of a “cumulative management performance” that “fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain.” Today, Kofi Annan chairs the CICC advisory board.
And what, exactly, is the CICC, which has gathered all these folks together? Funded by donors such as George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the European Union, it is a program run by a nonprofit organization called the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy. Registered in New York, with another office in The Hague, the World Federalist Movement enjoys consultative status with the U.N., and campaigns for “World Federalist government.”
A spokesman for the CICC, reached by phone, says Goldstone’s report on the ICC judicial candidates will probably be released sometime next month. Nothing here precludes the possibility that Goldstone might have learned from his self-confessed mistakes. Nonetheless, there’s something in this CICC welter of old U.N. hacks and fresh presumption that gives added heft to the obvious question: Does the world really need another Goldstone Report?
— Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and heads its Investigative Reporting Project.