The campaign against the UN’s human rights official on Palestine

Al-Jazeera  /  May 4, 2023

Francesca Albanese has faced calls for her dismissal from multiple fronts, including Israel and the US.

A strong campaign in support of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territory Francesca Albanese has emerged in response to an ongoing campaign to sack her.

Three former rapporteurs urged the UN on April 27 to publicly defend their successor, stating that she has been the target of attacks that have been “slanderous” and “personal”.

In her second year in the role, Albanese tweeted on Wednesday, she “saw too many deaths [of Palestinians], too much arbitrariness, zero accountability” and faced accusations against her work to uncover these abuses – “hideous words … to hide a much more hideous reality”.

The Italian international human rights lawyer was appointed to the role on May 1, 2022, the first woman to hold the position, monitoring the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, which was established in 1993.

In the letter addressed to UN leadership, former rapporteurs John Dugard, Richard Falk and Michael Lynk said they too were the target of such attacks during their terms, but the smears against Albanese are of “greater ferocity and mean-spiritedness”.

The letter was written by South African Dugard, who served in the role from 2001 to 2008, American Falk (2008 to 2014) and Canadian Lynk (2016 to 2022).

“During our respective terms as UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territory], the UN leadership did not do nearly enough to speak out against the unremitting attacks against us,” the group stated.

“The silence of the UN leadership in the face of these attacks only emboldened those organizations and individuals to continue with this behaviour and to seek to throw mud at the mandate at every available opportunity,” they added.

Calls for dismissal

Albanese has faced calls for her dismissal from multiple fronts, largely accusing her of making anti-Semitic comments and having an anti-Israel bias.

In January, a bipartisan letter by 11 representatives in the US Congress accused Albanese of “old antisemitic tropes”, and called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk to remove her from her post.

Other calls for her dismissal have come from Amichai Chikli, Israel’s minister of diaspora affairs and social equality, who in April accused her of having a “bias against Israel”.

Additionally, Israeli NGOs International Legal Forum and Monitor have joined the chorus of calls for her dismissal.

Monitor’s board includes Elliot Abrams, the neoconservative former foreign policy adviser for US Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W Bush, and Donald Trump, who has been described as “a passionate advocate of Israel”.

The International Legal Forum’s board includes Michael Mukasey, a former US attorney general during the Bush era who in 2014 defended that administration’s waterboarding torture tactics during the US’s so-called “war on terror”, CNN reported then.

‘Smear campaign’ to silence

Hundreds of civil society organizations, academics, jurists and politicians have come to Albanese’s defence.

On April 26, Amnesty International Italy released a letter in support of the UN human rights official, which included dozens of Italian rights groups, MPs, jurists and academics as signatories.

An earlier statement in support of Albanese in January 2023 included 116 human rights groups, civil society organizations, and academic institutions from all over the world.

It was in response to a statement made in December 2022 by Israel’s mission to the UN in Geneva accusing the rapporteur of “antisemitic comments”.

“Our organizations and groups warn, that this smear campaign against UNSR Albanese constitutes the latest manifestation in a pattern of Israeli attacks aimed at silencing any legitimate criticism of the inhuman manner in which it treats Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT),” the band of 116 international organizations and academics said.