GNRD and Palestine

The Global Network for Rights and Development – the organisation at the centre of a $13 million money-laundering investigation by Norwegian police – declares itself to be an international NGO which is "neutral and impartial". It has made strenuous efforts to win acceptance as a normal, mainstream human rights organisation and, where the UN and the European Parliament are concerned, it has largely succeeded in that.

But there are oddities too. GNRD is clearly well-funded but it doesn't say where the money comes from. In some respects it is also far from impartial. It obviously has a soft spot for the Sisi regime in Egypt and, unlike Human Rights Watch and the US State Department, it promotes a very favourable view of human rights in the United Arab Emirates. 

The Emirati connections have been much discussed (new readers can find the background here) but in the light of reports that GNRD has been funded – at least partly – by Mohammed Dahlan, the former head of Palestinian "preventive security" in Gaza, I decided to take a look at its views on Palestine.

Loai Deeb, the founder and president of GNRD, is now a Norwegian citizen but is of Palestinian origin. According to his profile on Wikipedia, he was born in Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border, and according to a recently-deleted section of the Wikipedia entry, he grew up in Gaza as a rebel:

"He founded a students union that called for the Palestinian history to be taught in Palestinian schools. As a result, especial units from the Israeli army abducted him outside his school at the age of 14 years. 

"He was interrogated for more than six months, during which he did not make any confession. Israeli press addressed his case in its coverage as a child subjected to torture. He was transferred to a court, which jailed him for four years and 6 months under the so-called Israeli (Tamir) law."

These early experiences might seem relevant – important, even – to his later role as head of a rights organisation. But when a biographical note about Deeb was posted on GNRD's website it made no mention of Palestine at all:

Dr. Loai Mohammed Deeb

GNRD President

PhD in International Law. 15 years of activities in the field of human rights. Member of many lawyers associations, such as in Cairo, Paris, London. Fellow of the Academy of European Law in Germany. Member of the Union for the ICC in Lahaye "Den Haag".

(This information, like parts of his Wikipedia entry, is also now deleted. It was on a page showing profiles and photographs of GNRD staff which disappeared a few days ago along with material about GNRD's "collaborators and sponsors" – apparently to hamper investigation by journalists in the midst of increased media interest. However, cached copies can still be found in the Wayback Machine's archive.)

Palestine on GNRD's website

A perusal of GNRD's website suggests an organisation that is certainly concerned about Palestine – as most rights groups are – but not especially preoccupied by it.

For example, a Google search of the website shows 44 pages containing the word "Palestine" (and 16 containing the word "Israel"). This is a tiny proportion on a website of 2,500 pages or more. Among the 44 pages, some of the "Palestine" mentions are just incidental, and some pages are duplicated in English and French. One of the pages dealing specifically with Palestine has a news item that begins:

"In Gaza, and for the first time, GNRD youth groups kindly visited Saint Porphyrius Church on Sunday 20-4-2014 at 1:00pm (Easter Day). GNRD members carried white flowers with them to symbolise peace and religious tolerance between Muslims and Christians in Palestine ... "

Another item is headed: "UN agency receives 11 million euros from European Commission to help Palestine refugees."

There's also an undated report which gives a fairly bland account of GNRD's youth activities in the West Bank.

Last year GNRD issued a country-by-country league table of human rights which it deleted after being mocked on social media for giving an unbelievably high ranking to the UAE. But where Israel and Palestine were concerned, its rankings didn't sound unreasonable. It said:

"A large number of alarming reports from Palestine, Israel, Ukraine, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan have resulted in notable shifts in the rankings. Thus, Israel went down 10 places, to the 64th position, owing to a significant decline in the rights of foreigners and the right of movement; Palestine went down 14, to 107th position ..."

Overall, GNRD's position on Palestine, as judged from its website, doesn't seem particularly strident or contentious. But there's a small crack in this facade. The Google search also throws up a document that doesn't seem to be linked in to the main website. It's in a folder marked "userfiles" and it reveals a much closer involvement in Palestinian affairs, with a very different tone. 

The document, entitled "Report on Israeli Enforcement of Buffer Zone Area in the Gaza Strip: Most Important Violations Resulting from the Buffer Zone", was produced by GNRD "in collaboration" with the Ramallah-based Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights. The report, which was later distributed to the UN Human Rights Council, can also be viewed on Al-Dameer's website.

Older cached versions of the now-deleted staff list show that Khalil Abu Shammala, Al-Dameer's director, was also once a board member of GNRD, though he seems to have left late last year or early this year.

Of course, GNRD and Al-Dameer were perfectly entitled to produce a critical report on the buffer zone. The point, though, is that it seems to have been something GNRD was not particularly keen to draw attention to on its website.

Campaign against war criminals

Aside from his GNRD activities, Loai Deeb was one of the founders of the International Coalition Against War Criminals (ICAWC). This sounds like a worthy cause – except that all the "war criminals" it pursues seem to have the same nationality. In 2009, aided by a group of Norwegian lawyers, it attempted bring war crimes charges against three Israeli politicians – Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak – together with seven Israeli military commanders. One of the lawyers involved, Kjell Brygfjeld, is now representing Deeb in the money-laundering case.

NGO Monitor (an Israeli organisation) makes a number of complaints about GNRD's Palestine-related activities. It notes that in 2013 GNRD organised a side event at the UN Human Rights Council on "Israeli violations of human rights". The relevant page has since been deleted from GNRD's website but a snapshot has been preserved in the Wayback Machine archive, here, and it's easy to see why NGO Monitor didn't like it: it's very critical of Israel.

Another Human Rights Council side event organised by GNRD last year featured Adel Atieh, an official at the Palestinian mission to the UN. NGO Monitor says:

"The Palestinian official "accused the international community of complicity in Israeli violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) during its recent offensive against Gaza." Another member of the panel accused Israel of using "powerful weapons armed with depleted uranium which would contaminate the soil and were known to cause cancer and birth defects."

As before, the relevant page has been deleted from GNRD's website and this time its content has not been archived at Wayback Machine. 

Lawsuit over settlement products

Ramadan Abu Jazar is a board member of GNRD and director of its operations in Brussels. Here's his profile as it appeared before deletion from the GNRD website:

Mr. Ramadan Abu Jazar

Board of Directors

He helped in establishing new regional directions of GNRD activities and cooperation. Thus, after succesful work in Africa and Europe, and as a GNRD-Brussels Director Mr. Ramadan has become a member of GNRD Board of Directors in 2014.

As with Deeb's profile, there is no mention of Palestine. Readers have to look elsewhere to discover that Abu Jazar is a Belgian citizen of Palestinian origin and head of the Palestinian House organisation in Belgium. He recently brought a lawsuit against the Belgian government for failing to prevent the import or sale of Israeli settlement products in Belgium.

One GNRD director profiled on the deleted web page does, however, have explicit Palestinian connections:

Mr. Shawqi Abdelmajid Issa

Board of Directors– freeze Membership

Responsible person for GNRD networking and relations building with NGOs. Legal consultant for Maannews Agency. General Director of Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights– Palestine.

The strange thing about Issa's profile is the inclusion of the words "freeze membership" just below his name. It looks like an instruction to staff that has somehow found its way on to the website, and suggests that he may no longer be a board member. But so many odd things happen at GNRD that it's hard to be sure.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that GNRD's claim to be "neutral and impartial" is false where Palestine is concerned. Deeb and his colleagues are free to support the Palestinian cause if they wish, but the problem here is that they are trying to run on two different tracks at the same time.

One is the official GNRD track – relatively uncontentious and designed to win acceptance from as many people and organisations as possible. The other track – less exposed to public view – makes no pretence of neutrality: it is both committed and contentious.

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Tuesday, 23 June 2015