Ex-aide to Jimmy Carter named head of UN probe into Gaza clashes

Argentinian Santiago Canton replaces David Crane, who reportedly quit Human Rights Council panel after it emerged he had previously done advisory work for the Israeli government

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Santiago Canton of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) speaks to reporters after a meeting with Guatemalan president Oscar Berger in Guatemala City on Monday, July 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)
Santiago Canton of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) speaks to reporters after a meeting with Guatemalan president Oscar Berger in Guatemala City on Monday, July 17, 2006. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday announced that Santiago Canton of Argentina will head the agency’s probe into the clashes at the Gaza border this summer.

Santiago is replacing David Crane, who last month quit as head of the panel. He cited “personal reasons” for his surprising withdrawal, though he reportedly felt compelled to leave after it emerged that he had previously advised the Israeli government.

Canton, currently the secretary of human rights for the province of Buenos Aires, has focused his long career on human rights abuses in Latin America. He was the director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and the executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Earlier in his career, he served as political assistant to former US president Jimmy Carter in democratic development programs in countries in Latin America.

He also worked alongside former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, a prominent human rights advocate, on a 2018 Organization of American States panel studying possible crimes against humanity committed by Venezuela.

Canton will preside over the three-member “Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The other members are Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer educated in the UK, and Kaari Betty Murungi, a lawyer and human rights activist from Kenya.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday declined to comment on Canton’s appointment. Officials in Jerusalem are unlikely to cooperate with the probe, which they have rejected from its very inception.

Crane, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law who was tapped to head the Commission of Inquiry in July, quit the panel a few weeks later citing “personal reasons.”

Sources told The Times of Israel that Crane withdrew from the probe after it emerged that he secretly advised the Israeli government on matters related to international law and the International Criminal Court.

Crane did not respond to several emails asking for comment. The Foreign Minister, too, declined to comment on the matter.

As opposed to the head of a previous UN Human Rights Council probe into Israeli-Palestinian violence, Israel did not publicly criticize Crane after he was appointed.

Writing to The Times of Israel in late July, Crane vowed to enter the investigation “with an open mind with no preconceived positions or perspectives.”

David M. Crane Interviewed by BBC World, January 22, 2014. (Screen capture: YouTube)

On May 18, the UN Human Rights Council voted in favor of creating an “independent, international commission of inquiry” that will be asked to produce a final report on the events at the Gaza border by March 2019.

According to its mandate, the panel will “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018.”

In voting overwhelmingly in favor of Resolution S-28/1, the 47-member body mandated the panel “to establish the facts and circumstances, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedure mandate holders, of the alleged violations and abuses, including those that may amount to war crimes” and “to identify those responsible.”

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote — 29 countries voted in favor, two against, with 14 abstaining — as “irrelevant.”

“The organization that calls itself the Human Rights Council again proved it is a hypocritical and biased body whose purpose is to harm Israel and back terror, but mostly it proved it is irrelevant,” he said. “The State of Israel will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers.”

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot as smoke billows from burning tires during a violent demonstration along the border between Israel and the Gaza strip, east of Gaza city on July 27, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmud Hams)

According to AP figures, about 130 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the mass “March of Return” protests on March 30. Israel has accused Hamas of using the clashes to attempt to breach the border fence and carry out attacks, and the terror group has acknowledged dozens of those killed were its members.

Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, has fought three wars with the Jewish state since it violently took over Gaza in 2007.

In June, the US quit the The Hague-based UNHRC, citing among other things its preoccupation with Israel.

Israel welcomed the US’s move. “For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” the Prime Minister’s Office said at the time.

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