A growing number of countries including Israel refuse to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council, a top UN official in Geneva said on Tuesday.
“There is an increasing and clear attempt by states to block or evade human-rights scrutiny,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said at the start of the Council’s 33rd session.
Although he included Israel in the list, he focused the bulk of his remarks on over a dozen other countries, including super powers such as China and the US as well as some of the world’s worst human-rights abusers such as Syria and Iran.
It has been difficult for the Council’s special investigators to gain access to certain countries, even though they are tasked with fact finding, Hussein said.
“Human-rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public-relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity,” he said.
“On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: What, precisely, are you hiding from us? “If access is refused, we will assume the worst and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations.”
Hussein’s harshest words were for Syria, which has refused to allow a UNHRC investigatory team into the country since 2011.
“This is a state led by a medical doctor and yet is believed to have gassed its own people; has attacked hospitals and bombed civilian neighborhoods with indiscriminate explosive weapons; and maintains tens of thousands of detainees in inhuman conditions,” he said.
“Words cannot convey how profoundly I condemn this situation.”
Iran has not let his office into the country since 2013, Hussein said, thereby making it difficult to examine problems with its justice system, which executes “large numbers of people, including juveniles.”
There are also “allegations of discrimination and prosecution of religious and ethnic minorities; harsh restrictions on human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists; and discrimination against women both in law and practice,” he said.
Turkey has cooperated with his office in several areas, but has blocked its entry to the south of the country, where according to Hussein there are “civilian deaths, extrajudicial killings and massive displacement” of thousands of people.
His office has also been blocked in the Oromia and Amhara region of Ethiopia, where according to Hussein there are “repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protesters, enforced disappearances and mass detentions, including of children.” There are also, he added, “worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition.”
Mozambique has yet to grant access to UNHRC officials to investigate “reports of mass graves, summary executions, destruction of property, displacement and attacks against civilians,” Hussein said.
The United States has not allowed the Special Rapporteur on Torture to enter the Guantanamo Bay detention center and conduct confidential interviews.
China has not allowed a mission from the High Commissioner’s Office into the country in the last decade although it did allow a visit by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Hussein said.
There are reports from China of “harassment of humanrights lawyers, human-rights defenders and their family members, as well as allegations of discrimination, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody of members of ethnic and religious communities,” he said.
Hussein’s sole comment on Israel was that it had a “long record of refusing to cooperate with most of them, in terms of allowing access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Israel has said it refused entry to fact-finding missions with mandates that it believed were biased against it and for which the outcome was predetermined.
Overall, Israel has argued that the UNHRC singles out Israel for censure and has passed more resolutions against it than any other country.
This week, however, Israel did allow in a special UNHRC investigator on violence against women to enter both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Israel has cooperated with the Council on a number of mechanisms and participates in its debates, save for Agenda Item 7. The Council is mandated to debate allegations of Israeli human rights abuses at every session. It is the only country against which there is such a mandate.
During the 33rd session, the Agenda Item 7 debate will take place on September 23.