Too little, too late: UN genocide office breaks silence on Gaza

A woman sits at a table in front of wall adorned with the UN logo

Human rights organizations accuse UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu of dereliction of duty for ignoring Israel’s mass atrocities in Gaza.

Luiz Rampelotto ZUMA Press Wire

The UN secretary-general’s special adviser on preventing genocide has finally broken her months-long silence about Israel’s ongoing campaign of extermination and destruction in Gaza.

But the belated response from Alice Wairimu Nderitu has done little to satisfy Palestinian human rights defenders who have called on her boss, Secretary-General António Guterres, to launch an investigation into the “dereliction of her duties and responsibilities demanded by her mandate.”

Nderitu last week issued her first statement on the situation in Gaza since one in October that was sharply criticized for its strong pro-Israel bias.

In her release on 9 February, Nderitu “reiterates” her pro-Israel statement from October, but in addition says she “echoes” a statement from Guterres’ office last month “taking note” of the International Court of Justice ruling ordering Israel to halt what the judges plausibly found to be a genocide.

But Nderitu’s response is being described as too little too late.

“This statement underscores the failure of the special adviser on the prevention of genocide to meaningfully fulfill her mandate without biases or double standards,” the Gaza-based Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan said.

“It also disregards 100,000 Palestinians killed, injured or missing under rubble in Gaza over the past four months.”

Al-Mezan is one of more than a dozen Palestinian rights groups that last week wrote to Guterres to demand action over Nderitu’s failure to fulfill her mandate from the UN Security Council to investigate and warn about situations where there is a credible risk of genocide.

The groups note that she has issued warnings and statements about various conflicts around the world while ignoring the bloodbath perpetrated by Israel.

“The glaring absence of any action in response to the sustained mass atrocities endured by Palestinians in Gaza raises significant concerns about [Nderitu’s] capability to execute her mandate with due effectiveness and impartiality,” the groups wrote on 7 February.

“This absence is particularly glaring given the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) acknowledgment of the plausibility of genocide being committed by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza, placing them at risk of irreparable harm.”

Ignoring Palestinians

The rights groups urged Guterres to investigate why Nderitu had also kept her silence in the face of mounting warnings from numerous independent UN experts and human rights organizations about the unfolding genocide.

Nderitu has ignored all efforts by Palestinian rights organizations to engage with her.

“Regrettably, our repeated efforts to establish contact and schedule a meeting with the special adviser or the office on genocide prevention have been unsuccessful,” the groups state.

Their public criticism, however, may have prompted Nderitu to issue her latest statement, perhaps in an effort to retain a modicum of credibility. Her office also ignored repeated requests for comment from The Electronic Intifada for a previous story.

“The Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect must be staffed with reputable persons of good standing who are vigilant to atrocity crimes and unmotivated by political bias,” the Palestinian rights groups said, adding that, “those who fail to satisfy these criteria must be swiftly replaced by competent professionals capable of executing the mandate impartially and without biases.”

No independence

But Craig Mokhiber, a former UN official who helped establish the UN’s genocide office, has called for it to be disbanded.

In December, Mokhiber told The Electronic Intifada livestream that Nderitu’s silence reflected the policy of Guterres himself.

Mokhiber explained that in the original conception, the genocide office was intended to be independent, but instead ended up under the political control of the secretary-general.

“By design, it is a weak, non-independent, politically controlled office,” Mokhiber told The Electronic Intifada.

Even Nderitu’s resignation “would not fix the problem,” Mokhiber said. “The problem is the politicization of human rights questions by the secretary-general in New York.”

“I think that office should be dismantled,” Mokhiber added. He said the mandate to monitor and warn about potential genocides needs to be moved into the UN’s independent human rights institutions, “where you have special rapporteurs [and] commissions of inquiry, people who can actually act with principle without being controlled by the secretary-general or the political office.”

Mokhiber made global headlines in October when he resigned from his role as director of the UN’s human rights office in New York, citing the world body’s inaction over the unfolding genocide in Gaza.

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Dear Honorable Ali Abunimah & the Honorable Electric Intifada Cast of Journalists:
Nderitu is appropriately admonished in your writing, as well as her "cover" from UN Secretary General's wing. No wonder UNRWA is under siege due to all this seeming Orwellian-manufactured incompetence.
Thank you. I love your collective works.
Lou Stone

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