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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NYT, Lebanon and HRW hypocrisy

The New York Times mentions the new Lebanese law allowing Palestinian Arabs some new rights to employment - but notes that this supposed improvement is, in many way, only on paper:

The law lifts restrictions on Palestinians’ employment in the formal labor market, though they would still be officially treated as foreigners. They would be barred from working as engineers, lawyers and doctors, occupations that are regulated by professional syndicates limited to Lebanese citizens.

The NYT, of course, mostly avoids the main issue of full rights - which would include citizenship for those born in Lebanon. It also refers to them as "refugees," even though they are nothing of the sort. This section is telling:
I am 51 years old, born and raised here, and this is the first time I feel like I am a human being,” said Abu Luay Issawi, who owns a grocery store in Mar Elias, a refugee camp in Beirut.

Electricity was out in the camp on Tuesday. No water was running, as is the case almost every day in Mar Elias, which is overcrowded and lacks basic infrastructure.

Mr. Issawi said he had graduated among the top of his class from Beirut Arab University more than two decades ago with a degree in engineering, but was never able to find a job here. “I don’t remember anything about engineering,” he said. “But it is nice to know that my son will have a better future.”

His neighbor interrupted him. “If I am going to live and die here, then I want all my rights,” Youssef Ahmad, 52, said.
The Times gratingly quotes a Human Rights Watch spokesman, who righteously claims that "This should be the start and not the finish line in the march toward achieving human rights for Palestinians."

In fact, Human Rights Watch does not want Lebanese Palestinians to have their full rights. For them to have full rights would involve the right to become full citizens of Lebanon if they so choose, and HRW is against that right.

HRW twists international law to make the "right of return" apply to descendants. In a remarkably convoluted argument, HRW says:

The right [to return] is held not only by those who fled a territory initially but also by their descendants, so long as they have maintained appropriate links with the relevant territory. The right persists even when sovereignty over the territory is contested or has changed hands. If a former home no longer exists or is occupied by an innocent third party, return should be permitted to the vicinity of the former home.

They link to their definition of "appropriate links". They first quote a UN committee comment on Article 12 of the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights:
Thus, the persons entitled to exercise this right can be identified only by interpreting the meaning of the phrase "his own country". The scope of "his own country" is broader than the concept "country of his nationality". It is not limited to nationality in a formal sense, that is, nationality acquired at birth or by conferral; it embraces, at the very least, an individual who, because of his or her special ties to or claims in relation to a given country, cannot be considered to be a mere alien. This would be the case, for example, for nationals of a country who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law, and of individuals whose country of nationality has been incorporated in or transferred to another national entity, whose nationality is being denied them.

Note that this in no way includes descendants.

HRW goes way beyond this:

In the view of Human Rights Watch, the clearest guidance in international law for defining the basis on which an individual can exercise a claim to return to his or her "own country" is provided by the convergence of the wording of the General Comments of the Human Rights Committee -- "an individual who, because of his or her special ties to or claims in relation to a given country, cannot be considered to be a mere alien"-- and the concept of a "genuine and effective link," which arose out of the International Court of Justice's Nottebohm case (2). While the Nottebohm case addressed the issue of nationality, the criteria that it sets forth are the most comprehensive, Human Rights Watch considers, for determining the existence of the right to return., it says :

"Different factors are taken into consideration, and their importance will vary from one case to the next: there is the habitual residence of the individual concerned but also the centre of his interests, his family ties, his participation in public life, attachment shown by him for a given country and inculcated in his children, etc."

The Nottebohm case did not in any way deal with the children of the person contesting his nationality.

Here is another case where HRW substitutes lex ferenda for lex lata - the law as they want it to be with the law as it is.

In their zeal to "protect" a non-existent "right of return" for Lebanese Palestinians who were born in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch is denying Palestinians in Lebanon their human rights to citizenship in the country of one's birth! Human rights are individual, not collective, but HRW is de facto adopting the Arab lie that "Palestinian unity" is more important than individual rights.

Yes, there are political issues involved in allowing hundreds of thousands of Sunnis to become citizens of Lebanon. Yes, there are political issues in the Arab world against the concept of naturalization of millions of people. But since when should HRW twist international law in order to justify these ultimately political decisions?

The entire issue is one of individual choice. If Palestinian Arabs in Lebanon are afraid that by becoming citizens, they would compromise on the miniscule chance that they would eventually be allowed to move to Israel and rebuild a village destroyed in 1948, they can choose not to become naturalized. History shows that most Lebanese Palestinians would become citizens in a minute if they could, and when HRW parrots Arab lies about how the "right of return" is more important than their rights to citizenship, then HRW shows itself to be a mere parody of a human rights organization.

Another issue is simple realism. The fact is that the majority of Lebanese Palestinians will never immigrate to "Palestine" or to Israel even with a peace agreement. The Lebanese will still insist on restricting the PalArabs' rights even afterwards. HRW, evidently, prefers the Arab cop-out of an unrestricted "right of return" and its concomitant sentencing of an entire population to misery rather than working to help them attain truly equal rights.

If Human Rights Watch really wanted to protect the human rights of these people, it would call on Lebanon to allow people born in that country to become citizens of that country should they so choose. Their choice to misinterpret international law instead says volumes about how HRW is, effectively, a political pawn of the Arabs.

(h/t BC)