UN avoids Israel showdown, delays rights review

UN Human Rights Council postpones Israel's Universal Periodic Review in response to J'lem's unprecedented refusal to cooperate.

UNHRC 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
The UN Human Rights Council avoided a showdown with Israel Tuesday when it agreed to delay its Universal Periodic Review until no later than November of this year, after Israel became the first country to boycott its scheduled session on the matter in Geneva on Tuesday.
The council called on Israel to cooperate with the council on the UPR. It asked its president Remigiusz Henczel to encourage Israel’s participation in the human rights review.
Henczel said that postponement served “as a precedent to be applied in all similar circumstances of non-cooperation in the future.”
He warned, however, that if Israel failed to participate by the set deadline, the council would weight steps against it.
Israel cut its ties with the council last March to protest its establishment of a fact-finding mission on West Bank settlements.
That report is due out in the near future. The settlements report council will be debated on March 18.
Israel has no objection to the UPR process through which the council reviews the human rights record of all 193 UN member states. It received cooperation from all countries during its first round of reviews, including from Israel in 2008.
The council is now going through its second round of reviews.
Israel informally asked for a postponement earlier this month, in keeping with its policy of boycotting the council over the upcoming settlement’s report.
On Tuesday, in Geneva, when, as promised, Israel did not show up for its periodic review, the council’s 47 member states agreed to a postponement, even though a number of countries felt the delay only skirted the issue.
The representative from Indonesia noted that the Israel request was due to political considerations, not technical ones.
“The issue we are discussing today with regard to the UPR of Israel is not about the [technical] shortcomings that cost delay or hamper the participation of Israel in the UPR process, it is about Israel’s noncooperative attitude with the UPR,” he said.
The Egyptian representative Wafaa Bassim said, “What we are dealing with is a clear case of non-cooperation and noncompliance of a state under review.”
She noted that many countries had encouraged Israel to participate in the UPR process.
Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation said that his group was concerned that Israel’s absence set an “unhealthy precedent” that other countries would follow to similarly boycott the UPR process.
“What is surprising for us, is the level of leverage and understanding that is being extended to Israel by some countries for its behavior in violation of all its international obligations,” Akram said.
“We wonder in the OIC whether this kind of cooperative spirit would be extended to some other country that was not so close to some of the major powers in this world,” he said.
Ireland’s representative speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it had appealed to Israel to take part in the review and believed Israel’s phone conversation with the council on the matter was a positive signal.
Ireland, along with US Ambassador Eileen C. Donahoe and other country representatives lauded Henczel’s work in seeking a solution to the matter.
Donahoe said that the UPR was a valuable mechanism “because it is universally applicable to all UN member states on equal terms and because it is conducted in a collaborative and cooperative manner.”
Henczel held exhaustive consultations before proposing a postponement, which “reflects his best effort to find common ground and to protect the UR mechanism going forward,” Donahoe said.
After the session, eight human rights groups called on Israel to participate in the UPR process, including Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din.
“We hope that the new Israeli government currently being formed will take advantage of today’s postponement to cooperate with the international community on the important issue of protecting human rights,” the groups said in a statement.
But United Nations Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said that the issue was the council’s history of signaling out Israel for special treatment.
“We regret that today’s resolution failed to acknowledge the elephant in the room: the council’s systematic bias against Israel,” he said.