The director of the New York office of the U.N.’s human rights agency has stepped down, accusing the U.N. in a sharply worded letter of abandoning its own principles and international law, and of failing to stop Israel’s deadly bombardment of Gaza, which he called a “genocide.”
The former director, Craig Mokhiber, a human rights lawyer, wrote in the letter dated Oct. 28: “I write at a moment of great anguish for the world, including for many of our colleagues. Once again, we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the Organization that we serve appears powerless to stop it.”
In the letter, which was viewed by The New York Times and which the U.N. confirmed was authentic, he accused the U.S. and Britain governments an,d much of Europe of being “complicit.” He described as “a textbook case of genocide” Israel’s offensive in Gaza and in the West Bank, which has killed at least 8,000 Palestinians, including more than 3,000 children, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza; and has damaged schools, medical facilities, mosques and residential buildings, including U.N. offices.
The letter was addressed to Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who has called for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict and has criticized Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its airstrikes. The war erupted after Hamas launched terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, killing at least 1,400 civilians and soldiers.
Since the start of the conflict, the U.N. has been criticized by both Israel and Palestinians for what has been characterized as an inadequate response to the war, whether for not being explicit enough about Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas or for not being able to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza as the death toll grows and thousands are displaced.
Mr. Mokhiber has spent four decades investigating Palestinian human rights violations and genocide against the Tutsis, Bosnian Muslims, the Yazidi and the Rohingya for the U.N. In his letter, he accused key parts of the U.N. of having “surrendered” to pressure from the United States, the top donor to the world body, and for fearing the “Israel Lobby.”
In response to the letter, Laura Gelbert Delgado, the spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights agency, said on Tuesday, “These are the personal views of a staff member who retires today. The position of the Office is reflected in its public reporting and statements.”
António Guterres, secretary general of the U.N., again condemned both the Hamas attack and the killing of civilians in Gaza — including those of 63 U.N. staff members in the enclave.
“International humanitarian law establishes clear rules that cannot be ignored,” Mr. Guterres said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is not an à la carte menu and cannot be applied selectively. All parties must abide by it, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.”