Richard Anderson Falk (born 1930) is an American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, writer (the author or co-author of 20 books), speaker, activist on world affairs, and an appointee to two United Nations positions on the Palestinian territories.
Falk obtained a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, a Bachelor of Laws from Yale University, and a Doctor of Laws from Harvard University. He is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, Emeritus at Princeton University, and was Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2001-04). He retired from teaching in 2001.
Falk has published a number of books and essays analyzing the legality of the Vietnam War and other military operations. With regard to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he has written that it is "inescapable that an objective observer would reach the conclusion that this Iraq war is a war of aggression, and as such, that it amounts to a Crime against Peace of the sort for which surviving German leaders were indicted, prosecuted and punished at the Nuremberg trials conducted shortly after the Second World War."
He is a member of the Editorial Boards of The Nation and The Progressive, and Chair of the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is a former advisory board member of the World Federalist Institute and the American Movement for World Government. He is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at Chapman University School of Law.
In 2001 Falk served on a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Inquiry Commission for the Palestinian territories with John Dugard, a South African based in Leiden University in the Netherlands, and Kamal Hussein, former foreign minister of Bangladesh. Falk stated the two main issues were: "One is evaluating whether the conditions of occupation are such as to give the Palestinians some kind of right of resistance. And if they have that right, then what are the limits to that right?" and "The other issue at stake in this current inquiry is to evaluate how Israel as the occupying power is carrying out its responsibility to protect the society that is subject to its control." After its investigation the commission issued a report entitled "Human rights inquiry commission to gather and compile information on the violation of human rights by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories."
On March 26, 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967." Falk replaces South African professor John Dugard, an expert on apartheid who will leave his post in June 2008 after seven years.
According to a UN press release, then Israeli H.E. permanent resident Ambassador to the United Nations Itzhak Levanon said that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was "hopelessly unbalanced," "redundant at best and malicious at worst." Referring to Falk's statement that it was not "an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with the criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity," Levanon argued that "someone who had publicly and repeatedly stated such views could not possibly be considered independent, impartial or objective." He stated the council was "missing an opportunity" to lay "the groundwork for better cooperation with Israel."
Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, criticized Falk's appointment to the United Nations Human Rights Council, stating that "This is exactly why we voted against the new human rights council" and that "He was picked for a reason, and the reason is not to have an objective assessment ‚ÄĒ the objective is to find more ammunition to go after Israel."
Yitzhak Levanon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, criticized Falk's appointment in an address to the council, stating: "He has taken part in a UN fact-finding mission which determined that suicide bombings were a valid method of 'struggle'. He has disturbingly charged Israel with 'genocidal tendencies', and accused it of trying to achieve security through 'state terrorism'. Someone who has publicly and repeatedly stated such views cannot possibly be considered independent, impartial or objective." The Israeli government announced that it will deny Falk a visa to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, at least until the September 2008 meeting of the Human Rights Council.
In May 2008 Israel refused to admit Falk to gather information for a report. The National Lawyers Guild urged Israel to permit Falk entry, stating "Falk made no claims any different from those made by John Dugard, the man he was to replace, in several reports on conditions in the Occupied Territories." In a July 2008 interview Falk stated the constraints would "limit my exposure to the direct realities. But I think it's quite possible to perform this role without that exposure. Barring my entry complicates my task but doesn't make it undoable."
In June 2008, Falk proposed to the Human Rights Council that his mandate to investigate violations of international humanitarian law in the Palestinian territories be extended to include possible Palestinian infringements. He stated his goal was to "insulate" the Council, which is dominated by Islamic and African states, usually supported by China, Cuba and Russia, "from those who contend that its work is tainted by partisan politics."
On December 9, 2008, the United Nations released a statement by Falk in his official capacity as "Special Rapporteur" noting that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Miguel D‚ÄôEscoto and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, among other top officials, have expressed concern for the ‚Äúdesperate plight‚ÄĚ of civilians in Gaza. Falk said: ‚ÄúAnd still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease.‚ÄĚ He outlined steps that must be taken to avoid a ‚Äúhumanitarian catastrophe." These included implementing the "responsibility to protect" a civilian population from collective punishment and a determination of "whether the Israeli civilian leaders and military commanders responsible for the Gaza siege should be indicted and prosecuted for violations of international criminal law," which The Jerusalem Post wrote would go before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands.
On December 14 Falk landed at Ben Gurion Airport with staff members from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on an official visit, planning to travel to the West Bank and Gaza to prepare a report on Israel's compliance with human rights standards and international humanitarian law. However, Israel detained him and held him for 30 hours, before releasing him to a flight back to Geneva on December 15. In an interview Falk stated the Israeli government distorts his real views and that he saw the expulsion as an "insidious pattern of trying to shift the attention from their objections to the person." Navi Pillay called Israel's detention and expulsion of Falk "unprecedented and deeply regrettable."
On December 27, 2008 Falk issued a statement condemning the December 2008 Israel strikes on Gaza as "war crimes" because they included collective punishment, targeting of civilians and a disproportionate military response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. He stated that Israel had ignored Hamas' diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the ceasefire which expired December 26 and condemned nations which provided Israel military support and participated in the siege of Gaza. In a Houston Chronicle article Falk reaffirmed that he had "called on the International Criminal Court" to investigate Israeli leaders responsible for possible violations of international criminal law.
In March 2009, Falk stated that Israel's offensive in Gaza constituted a war crime of the "greatest magnitude". He called for an independent group to be set up to investigate the war crimes committed on both sides. The British government responded to Falk's report by stating that "the report of the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur is unbalanced and contributes little." Richard Goldstone, head of the independent United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the conflict, stated that he would take in account ‚Äúrelevant factors, reports, suggestions, recommendations,‚ÄĚ including those of Richard Falk. Israel also refused to cooperate with Goldstone, who was shocked by the devastation in Gaza, and said he was not optimistic about the possibility of war crimes trials.
In October, 1973, Falk defended Karleton Armstrong, who pleaded guilty to bombing the University of Wisconsin Army Mathematics Research Center, which killed a researcher working there. The New York Times reported that Falk "appealed for full amnesty for all resistors, including those who use violent tactics to oppose the war in Vietnam." The Times further reported that Falk, "cited the Nuremberg Trials as precedent for defense assertions that private American citizens had "a right, and perhaps a duty" to actively oppose the war by any means". According to Ronald Christenson, political science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College, Falk "invoked the Nuremberg precedent to argue that there is a right of individuals to stop crime 'even by creating a lesser crime.'"
On February 16, 1979, two weeks after the return of Ruhollah Khomeini to Iran, Falk wrote an op-ed for the New York Times ‚ÄúTrusting Khomeini‚ÄĚ. He criticized President Jimmy Carter's accusations of ‚Äúreligious fanaticism‚ÄĚ and media descriptions of Khomeini as being backward, antisemitic, and guilty of ‚Äútheocratic fascism.‚ÄĚ Arguing Khomeini was being judged unfairly, he concluded ‚Äúthe depiction of Khomeini as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false ... To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling seems almost beyond belief. ... Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics, Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.‚ÄĚ
In 2004, Falk wrote a preface to David Ray Griffin's book The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 which maintains that the George W. Bush administration was complicit in the September 11 attacks. In that preface he argued: "There have been questions raised here and there and allegations of official complicity made almost from the day of the attacks, especially in Europe, but no one until Griffin has had the patience, the fortitude, the courage, and the intelligence to put the pieces together in a single coherent account." Falk called for an official commission to further study these issues, including the role neoconservatives may have played in the attacks. He also signed a statement released by the organization 9/11 Truth in 2004 that calls for a new investigation into the September 11 attacks. Falk confirmed his support for the statement in 2009.
Falk also wrote a chapter for Griffin's 2006 book entitled 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out. In November 2008, Falk wrote in The Journal, a student publication in Edinburgh, Scotland: ‚ÄúIt is not paranoid under such circumstances to assume that the established elites of the American governmental structure have something to hide and much to explain... The persisting inability to resolve this fundamental controversy about 9/11 subtly taints the legitimacy of the American government. It can only be removed by a willingness, however belated, to reconstruct the truth of that day, and to reveal the story behind its prolonged suppression.‚ÄĚ
During the June 2008 session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer challenged Falk on his statements. "Could you tell us what credibility you expect your reports to have when leading newspapers such as The Times of London are commenting on your support for the 9/11 conspiracy theories of David Ray Griffin, who argues, and I quote from the Times article of April 15, 'that no plane hit the Pentagon,' and that 'the World Trade Center was brought down by a controlled demolition'? Although Egypt's representative objected with a point of order asking that this be stricken from the record, Council president Romulus Costea declined to accede, and Neuer's challenge remains on the official UN record. Falk never responded.
In a June 2007 article "Slouching toward a Palestinian Holocaust", Falk compared some Israeli policies with regard to the Palestinians to the Nazi Germany record of collective punishment. Identifying himself as a Jewish American, Falk stated that his use of the term "holocaust" "represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current [Israeli] genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy [for the Palestinians]". Falk also stated that "the comparison should not be viewed as literal, but...that a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century."
Falk responded to the criticism by saying, "If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison." He attributed the reluctance to criticise Israel's policies to the sensitive history of the Jewish people, as well as the state's ability to "avoid having (its) policies held up to international law and morality."