A United Nations special rapporteur who was accused by Jewish organizations of being anti-Israel is “entitled” to support from the university that employs him.
That was the response from Western University in London, Ont., which was accused of providing Prof. Michael Lynk with “critical resources” for his work on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and its “one-sided mandate” targeting Israel.
The accusations came from the Geneva-based group UN Watch, whose executive director, Hillel Neuer, slammed Western (formerly the University of Western Ontario) for extending “support in kind” to Lynk, the UNHRC’s “special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” and a Western University law professor.
Lynk was named to the unpaid post in March 2016, amid a chorus of complaints from Jewish groups that he had a long record of anti-Israel activity and statements. Then-foreign minister Stephane Dion even asked the UNHRC to reconsider the appointment.
In a July 20 letter to Amit Chakma, Western University’s president and vice-chancellor, Neuer said he was “shocked” to discover that the school has been providing Lynk with “support in kind in the form of research assistants, office space and administrative assistance to support his prejudicial mandate.”
He said Western’s support for the UN body’s “discriminatory and anti-human rights mandate” constitutes a “violation” of the university’s values and non-discrimination policy.
Neuer added that “no other entity in the world is listed as providing assets of any kind for this bigoted mandate,” and called on the university “to cease and desist” giving Lynk resources.
In a reply the next day, Chakma told Neuer that, as a full-time member of Western’s law faculty, Lynk is “entitled” to office space. He also has access to a shared research assistant, Chakma noted.
While Western embraces academic freedom, “this does not mean the university endorses the specific views and opinions of individual members of the academy, but we certainly defend their right to pursue their scholarly and extramural activities freely.”
And contrary to the “misleading inference” in Neuer’s letter, Lynk is among “at least 10 special rapporteurs who have, in the spirit of full transparency, disclosed that they received in-kind support from universities around the world in 2016, in relation to their respective UN mandates,” Chakma said.
Neuer, who was born in Montreal, said from Geneva that he was “disappointed” by Western’s response and sent The CJN a point-by-point refutation of Chakma’s reply.
Neuer argued that Lynk’s mandate is different from those of the 10 other university-supported rapporteurs, who report all human rights violations, because it focuses only on Israeli violations and ignores Palestinian terrorism.
“It’s the only mandate that expressly does not treat all human rights victims equally,” he stated.
The university “has now been put on notice that its in-kind support (to Lynk) has the effect of aiding and abetting a discriminatory mandate,” Neuer wrote. “Western should be setting an example, not encouraging discrimination and human rights denial.”
Neuer asked the university to appoint an independent investigator into the matter.
In a CJN interview, Lynk said Neuer’s original letter left “the misleading impression that it’s up to me to decide on the scope of the mandate. I have no power over that. He’s mailing the letter to the wrong address. That’s an issue to be taken up with the Human Rights Council. They’re the ones who set the mandate.”
He added, however, that he’s “open-minded” about reviewing or expanding his mandate to include examining human rights violations by Palestinians. He said he has raised the possibility with Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups.
“I’ve asked. I don’t get an answer back saying, ‘yes, please expand (the mandate).’ I’d like a consensus, or demand on the ground. That hasn’t occurred,” he said.
As for university resources, Lynk said he uses a research assistant for “about one hour a month” for his UN work.
He said the UN estimates the job takes up two to three months a year.
The task of the independent special rapporteur is “to assess the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, report publicly about it and work with governments, civil society and others to foster international co-operation,” according to the UNHRC’s website.
This past March, Lynk delivered his first report to the UNHRC, in which he recommended several measures Israel should take “to comply with international law.”
Israel’s 50-year occupation “becomes more pervasive by the day with no end even remotely in sight (and) has been profoundly corrosive of human rights and democratic values,” Lynk wrote.
Israel has long rejected the position of the independent investigator for the occupied territories, accusing it of bias against the Jewish state.