November 22, 2019

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30-Aug-18: Lessons learned from the world’s moral arbiter-in-chief
Prince Zeid in his official “exit” speech [Video grab from this source]

Owing to specific circumstances in our personal lives, we have a larger-than-usual sensitivity to the double-talk of self-important public officials. Still, we try to stay polite, considerate and respectful, so that we sometimes keep silent even when we feel the overwhelming urge to shout rudely and try to take those figures down a notch.

We’re suspending the silence today to speak out about the man, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who has just ended a term as “the world’s moral-arbiter-in-chief” (according to this US report at the time of his appointment) and one of the most powerful operators in the United Nations civil service. His previous gigs have included being Jordan’s ambassador to the UN for seven years, and then its ambassador to the US and to Mexico. He’s a cousin of Jordan’s current ruler, King Abdullah II and the next in line to the throne of Iraq. (The Hashemite clan of which Zeid is a member were granted royal domain over what we know today as Jordan and Iraq by the British in the 1920’s.) A USA Today commentary pointed out “the prince’s lifelong ties to the Jordanian regime headed by his cousin… Zeid has not commented on Jordan’s abuses, and some have questioned his suitability for the human-rights post“.

Is all of this relevant? Judge for yourself.

Looking back at his four-year term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Jordanian prince went on the record a few weeks ago saying he will give his UNCHR successor the same advice his own predecessor, Navi Pillay, gave him — “be fair and don’t discriminate against any country” and “just come out swinging”.

Here’s the encounter we had with him. We’re not sure he’s the swinger he think he is.

First a word about us. We are the parents of Malki, a child murdered at 15 in an especially savage Hamas terror attack on a pizzeria filled with children. For close to seven years and counting, we have been campaigning to have the mastermind of the massacre arrested where she now lives as a free citizen – in Jordan – and extradited to the United States. Why the US? Because our daughter held American citizenship and under American law the perpetrator of an act of terror in which a US citizen is killed can be brought to justice in a US federal court. The mastermind’s name is Ahlam Tamimi  and she has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list since March 2017.

Jordan, whose citizenship Tamimi (a close blood relative in multiple ways to the current Palestinian Arab “icon” Ahed Tamimi) holds though she calls herself a Palestinian, refuses to extradite her even though it signed an extradition agreement with the US in 1995. The US says the treaty is in full force and effect and there’s no real doubt that’s true.

On April 4, 2017, we emailed a personal letter to Mr Zeid in New York via three senior staffers each of whom who acts as his spokesperson.

Re: Extraditing Ahlam Tamimi 

We were pleased to see the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, speak forthrightly [link] four days ago about how states must (a) honor their treaty obligations, (b) act on legitimate arrest warrants and (c) respect the great importance of the global struggle for justice and against impunity.  

Prince Zeid was addressing the failure of his own homeland, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in relation to a notorious fugitive from justice, the president of Sudan, who ought to have been arrested when he came to Jordan. 

We are the parents of Malki Roth who was murdered in 2001 in the horrific Hamas attack on women and children in a pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem. Malki was 15. Fourteen other people were killed and 130 terribly injured. 

The mastermind of the attack is a Jordanian woman. She was eventually arrested and confessed to all the charges. She was convicted on 15 counts of murder and was sentenced to multiple life terms. Her sentence was drastically commuted eight years later in the 2011 deal Israel made with the Hamas terrorist organization to secure the release of an Israeli captive. She has lived free in Jordan since then, proudly taking “credit” for the murders and basking in the status of celebrity. 

Our daughter was a US citizen. Under US law relating to acts of terror, her killer must face justice in the US. The US formally requested some time ago that she be extradited by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But Jordan has refused. The woman, Ahlam Tamimi, is subject to a US arrest warrant and appears on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list

We are respectfully asking that the High Commissioner speak as clearly and forcefully to the King and government of his homeland, Jordan, about Tamimi as he did four days ago in that other matter. We ask him to tell Jordan that, in relation to Tamimi, it must (a) honor its treaty obligations, (b) act on legitimate arrest warrants and (c) respect the great importance of the global struggle for justice and against impunity.  

We appreciate you conveying this to the High Commissioner.  

Frimet and Arnold Roth
Jerusalem, Israel

We expected the silent treatment from the spokespersons (yes, the irony of their job-titles versus their actual performance is not lost on us) and we got it. Instead an OHCHR staffer responded to one of our follow-up notes with these kind sentiments:

Thank you for your message and sorry for the delay in acknowledgement – I can assure you that all messages received by this office are taken seriously, with only one problem being that there are too many of them from across the world, with many serious crisis and violations still ongoing, and too few people and resources to handle all of them. Your message is of course well received, including by the Executive Office of the High Commissioner (where I belong) and the MENA section of the Office. It will be given proper attention – I can assure in this – and you will receive a response upon due consideration. With full understanding and sincere sympathy for your loss. 

We wrote again briefly, several more times. By the time our wait had stretched to three months, we sent this on July 17, 2017:

UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland


The chain of correspondence below, initiated by my wife and me on April 4, 2017 and addressed to your office ended in silence.

Not silence from us, since we are vociferous in attempting to fight the apathy of international bodies who by their passivity and passive resistance contribute to injustice.

Silence from your High Commission.

Today being International Criminal Justice Day and having just read some lofty and inspiring words [here] issued on the occasion by your office, I am making this additional attempt at trying to penetrate the barrier.

I am not optimistic that this time, more than three months after our first letter, you will respond. But I feel the need to try once again. As the parents of a child murdered by a Jordanian woman who is, and is treated as, a national Jordanian hero and given safe harbor by the Jordanian government despite its valid 1995 extradition treaty with the United States, we are outraged by the injustice and even more by the silence of those who ought to be speaking out and joining with us.

Arnold Roth

cc Joaquín Alexander Maza Martelli
President, United Nations Human Rights Council

Eventually, on August 30, 2017, we got this response to our request for a small dose of human rights and justice from the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. It came from Geneva via Prince Zeid’s Chief of Office – Executive Direction and Management.

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Roth,

I wish to acknowledge receipt of your various communications below to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Most of all we wish to express our most sincere condolences on the death of your beloved daughter Malki Roth in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in 2001.

Please accept our apologies for the time it has taken to respond to your request that the High Commissioner take action regarding extraditing Ahlam Tamimi to the United States. The Office’s legal department has reviewed this matter in detail. While we understand and appreciate your request for assistance, please be advised that the United Nations High Commissioner’s Office nor the High Commissioner himself do not have the mandate or jurisdiction to address the complex legal issues involving extradition between States and the extra-territorial application of US criminal statutes involved in your request. As such, the Office is most regrettably not in a position to intervene in the matter as requested.

It is our sincere hope that your persistent advocacy and commitment to the cause of justice, accountability and human rights will lead to a successful fight against impunity globally, and specifically in memory of your beloved daughter.

So how does a seasoned diplomat who declines to get involved in international treaty matters that happen to put his cousin in an unpleasant light use his exalted platform? What kind of apparently non-complex legal issues is he ready to address? Well, how about these human rights issues for instance – all from the past few weeks and months:
  • Reminding “all states” to “abide by their treaty obligations” or else face “weakening the global struggle against impunity, and for justice” [source]
  • Warning Israel not to use “excessive force, following the many deaths and injuries sustained by Palestinians, including children, in Gaza“;  over the past month. For the record, the prince and his office have consistently ignored the central and critical role of Hamas in whipping up the rioters and their violence, physically bringing them to the Israeli border, encouraging women, children and infants to serve as human shields, using live weapons including incendiary devices and guns and bombs. 
  • Sharing his deep concern over proposed Israeli legislation that would “violate international law” and “have far-reaching consequences” that would “seriously damage the reputation of Israel around the world” [source]. Nothing too complex there, right?
  • Calling [here] for an “independent investigation” into the death, allegedly at the hands of Israeli forces of a Gazan Islamist amputee, Ibrahim Abu Thuraya. On any fair-minded view, the role of the terrorists in Thuraya’s demise – as outlined in this CAMERA report – raises questions that ought to have been reflected in the UN official’s efforts to seek justice but were not.
  • Sending out a warning letter on his office’s letterhead advising some 130 global and 60 Israels companies that they are “in breach of international law” because of their activities in Israel and liable to be added to a blacklist. The companies include Caterpillar, TripAdvisor, Priceline, Airbnb, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Israel Aircraft Industries and Ahava among many others. It’s been called “the latest incarnation of the decades-long Arab boycott and yet another singling out of Israel by the UN… The intent and impact is anti-Semitic,” according to an expert in UN matters and legal advisor for NGO Monitor [here].
This depressing logo decorated the rejection letter
we received months after we made our request
Evidently the OHCHR letter to us was sent right in the middle of one of its many promotional campaigns because a cheerful-looking logo adorned the letter. It reinforces the painful reality that while many human rights are surely worth standing up for, the human rights of a beautiful Jerusalem girl of 15 to be alive, to live free of the crushing assault of Islamist terrorists like Tamimi and the vicious, nail-enhanced bombs that serve as their sound track, are not among them.
Getting ignored or being fed insulting, offensive and nonsensical responses by public officials is an experience we have come to know from right-up-close, intimate involvement in the course of our efforts to get Ahlam Tamimi sent to face justice in an American court.

We’re not ready to go into details yet (there are efforts underway right now beneath the surface) but we have been exposed to exceedingly shabby treatment by several top-level US diplomats and by multiple officials in the US State Department including the head of an important and highly-relevant unit. On the other hand, we are getting gratifyingly good support from other administration officials.

We were reluctant to go public with our thoughts on the pompous, politicized non-response of Prince Zeid. But then he launched a public relations offensive in the last moments of his role. 
  • He said earlier this month, for instance, that When we feel we need to speak, we will speak. But for us, he did not. 
  • His exit speech video on the UN WebTV site starts out with some dramatic music and sober-sounding words from Zeid: “If you don’t sometimes speak out, if you don’t threaten to speak out, you don’t grab their attention. I would rather err on the speaking out part than staying silent… Our job is to defend the individual victims…” But we can observe that it’s not all the victims.
  • A Gulf State paper wrote yesterday that bitter criticism directed against from some states was something for him “to wear with pride, convinced that there is no honour to be found in silence“. We agree: none at all.
  • He declared [here] to wide media coverage that the silence of Myanmar’s leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi over the oppression of Burma’s Rohingya Muslim minority was “deeply regrettable“. But so is his unwillingness to pick up the phone and remind his cousin in Jordan’s royal capital that sending the mass murder of Jewish children to face trial is not a political issue but a straightforward moral and legal imperative. And in the case of the cousin, it’s a decision he can take with the snap of a finger. But doesn’t and hasn’t.
We regret Prince Zeid doesn’t see matters that way, and that’s why we are writing this today.

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