Israel hopes to reengage with UNHRC

After leaving United Nations Human Rights Council for biased treatment, Israel requests to resume ties.

United Nations Human Rights Council 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
United Nations Human Rights Council 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel has formally told the United Nations Human Rights Council in writing that it seeks to restore the ties it broke off with that international body in March 2012, to protest the biased treatment it had received at its hands.
“I have been instructed to write to you and, in response to your latest letter of 14 May 2013, re-affirm my intention to continue our close and fruitful dialogue,” Israel’s ambassador to the UNHRC, Eviatar Maner, wrote in a letter to the council. It was dated June 3, but was published on the council’s website only on Thursday.
“Moreover, I wish to cooperate with you and pursue a diplomatic engagement with a view to positively resolve all outstanding issues in Israel’s complex relationship with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms,” Maner said.
But Israeli diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that Jerusalem would agree to restore ties only upon receipt of assurances that the council would treat it fairly.
It has asked the UNHRC to abolish Item 7, a permanent point on the agenda under which member states debate Israeli human rights violations in the Palestinian territories at each session.
The UNHRC is scheduled to hold its next Item 7 debate on Monday, in which the special rapporteur Richard Falk, who is also the only special investigator permanently assigned to a country, plans to issue a report on Israel.
In an unusual move the European Union spoke about Israel on Wednesday during Agenda Item 4, which deals globally with human rights situations in all 193 UN member states.
Typically, it would have made that statement under Item 7, and diplomatic sources said they saw the statement as a positive sign that movement might be possible on this issue.
In its statement the EU said that it was concerned about the situation in the Palestinian territories and that it supported the United States drive to relaunch direct negotiations.
“Long term peace and security can only be sustained if human rights and international humanitarian law are fully respected by all – and accountability for human rights violations is key,” the EU said.
Aside from abolishing Item 7, Israel has also asked to be included in the group of UN Western nations that meets in Geneva. While it is part of that group in New York, it has not been included in the Geneva group, making it the only country excluded from regional groupings.
Israel broke off relations with the council to protest its creation of a fact-finding mission into West Bank settlement activities. Since its inception in 2006, the council has focused on Israeli activity more than on any other single UN country.
In speaking of Israel’s intention to reestablish ties with the council late last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said that 43 of the 103 UNHRC resolutions against individual countries were issued against Israel. Similarly, he said, six of its 19 emergency sessions were about Israel.
Still, Israel has been under international pressure to find a way to return to the council, so that it can participate in its Universal Periodic Review process through which the UNHRC examines the human rights record of the UN’s 193 member states.
All these states, including Israel, participated in the first round of reviews. But in January, Jerusalem abstained from the second round of reviews, as part of its decision not to engage with the council on any topic, even one it supports such as the UPR.
If Israel continues to abstain from the UPR, it will be the first country to ignore the human rights review.
The international community is concerned that Israel’s abstention will open the door for other countries, including those known as serious human rights abusers, to similarly ignore the UPR.
Israel is part of a group of 14 countries whose UPRs will be discussed on Friday. As part of that discussion, the UNHRC President Remigiusz Henczel will tell the council about Israel’s letter, according to a statement he has already posted on the UNHRC website.
In the statement he explains that for months he has been urging Israel to cooperate with the UPR process, and that he hopes it will do so by the scheduled October 29 date for its review.