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Canada Isn't a Fan of the UN's Pro-Palestinian Choice for a Human Rights Watchdog

The appointment of professor Michael Lynk is facing backlash from his own government, as he steps into the job of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine.
Photo via the Associated Press/Seth Wenig

Canada's foreign affairs minister is joining a growing chorus of Jewish and conservative groups calling on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to reconsider its appointment of an Ontario professor as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Palestine.

The UNHCR announced last Thursday it had appointed Michael Lynk, a law professor at Western University, to the role, after Indonesian diplomat Makarim Wibisono resigned in January after two years because Israel refused him entry into the Palestinian territories.


"This candidate was not put forward by Canada and does not represent the views of this government."

Lynk, who served as a refugee affairs officer with the UN Relief and Works Agency in 1989, has been outspoken about Israel's relationship with Palestine, writing in 2013 in Mondoweiss that Palestinian leadership should seek membership at the International Criminal Court and bring a complaint against Israel.

"A victory at the [ICC] would isolate Israel, require the West to acknowledge the force of its own laws … and, most hopefully, begin to re-set some of the dysfunctional asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians," he wrote.

His appointment was immediately decried by the Ottawa-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in a statement that said Lynk "has been significantly involved in anti-Israel advocacy in Canada" including "signing anti-Israel petition, calling for Israel to be prosecuted for 'war crimes'" and "addressing 'one-state' conferences (which call for the end of Israel)."

Lynk gave a presentation at a conference in 2009 on the topic of a unified Palestinian/Israeli state, the tagline of the event being "a country for all its citizens."

Canada's foreign affairs critic Tony Clement followed suit, urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a news release to "apply pressure against Lynk's selection" because of his involvement with "Israeli Apartheid Week."

It's not entirely clear what involvement Lynk has had with the university-based Israeli Apartheid Week apart from co-signing a letter asking that Canadian schools not try to ban the term outright.


Related: The UN's Expert on Human Rights in Palestine Resigns Because Israel Won't Let Him Enter Palestine

"We called on the government to intervene ahead of his pending selection, but obviously to no avail," Clement's release states. "Under the Conservative government there was never a doubt that Canada stands steadfastly with Israel; that indeed Canada stands by Israel through fire and water."

Shortly after that, Canada's foreign minister, Stephane Dion, Tweeted that the UNHRC should review "this appointment" to ensure that the rapporteur can "advance peace" in the region. But he did not elaborate further.

We call on — Stéphane Dion (@MinCanadaFA)March 25, 2016

Canada will continue to advocate for transparent processes for the appointment of credible, impartial & objective Special Rapporteurs — Stéphane Dion (@MinCanadaFA)March 24, 2016

Joseph Pickerill, a spokesperson for Dion wrote to VICE News in an email that there are "concerns" about the nominee's "suitability and impartiality.

"This candidate was not put forward by Canada and does not represent the views of this government," Pickerill wrote. He wouldn't say which aspects of Lynk's work the minister takes issue with.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to get into a debate via the media on each and every line but I'd urge you to look up original source material, as we have done," he said instead. "There are legitimate questions and concerns raised, which is why we've asked for a review."


Not even in government for a year, the Trudeau government has already faced blowback for its position on the Israel/Palestine conflict. In January, Dion condemned Israeli settlements and faced criticism. The previous government, on paper, had opposed the settlements but rarely said so publicly.

"As a steadfast ally and friend to Israel, Canada calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table," Dion said at the time in a statement.

Dion's spokesperson told Reuters later that Canada and Israel are "steadfast allies and good friends" but "good friends can occasionally deliver tough messages."

Related: Students Endorsed Boycotting Israel and Got Condemned by the Canadian Government

While the Conservatives criticize the Liberals for its perceived slights against Israel, pro-Palestinian activists have criticized the Trudeau administration for being too friendly with the state.

Geoff Bickerton, director of research at Canadian Union of Postal Workers, a group that supports a number of pro-Palestinian initiatives across the country, welcomed Lynk's appointment and accused the Liberals of having a "pro-Israel bias."

Michael Lynk is an excellent choice for UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Palestine.
Once again Liberals show their pro Israel bias.

— Geoff Bickerton (@gbickerton398)March 27, 2016

Israel has repeatedly charged the UNHRC with being biased and hostile towards it, and has refused to grant previous access to previous special rapporteurs for Palestine, an unpaid position created in 1993 to monitor and report on "the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory," according to its website, and be "the official United Nations voice" on rights in the region.


A spokesperson for the UNHRC told VICE News earlier this year that the last time a special rapporteur was allowed entry was in 2007.

Neither the UNHRC, based in Geneva, nor Lynk immediately replied to a request for comment from VICE News.

But Lynk acknowledged the controversy around his appointment to the Canadian Press on Friday and said that his views are misunderstood. He also pledged to he carry out his work as special rapporteur impartially and in line with the tenets of international law.

"Once again, Israel is being singled out with unconditional support from government officials."

In March of 2015, Wibisono issued a report on the human rights situation in Palestine calling on Israel to probe the deaths of more than 1,500 Palestinians, one third of whom were children, during the 2014 Gaza war.

Wibisono's most recent report, presented to the General Assembly in January, expressed concern over the "rise in violence" in the region, "especially of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces during clashes and in the context of attacks and alleged attacks by Palestinians.

"The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders."

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet voted for a motion in Parliament condemning the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to boycott Israeli products. It passed overwhelmingly, with only a handful of Liberals voting against it.

"Once again, Israel is being singled out with unconditional support from government officials," student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill wrote at the time in a statement.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne