22 nations oppose UNHRC probe, Pillay calls for arms embargo against Israel

No vote was required with respect to this first annual report, but Israel together with the United States garnered a list of 22 UN nations including themselves who opposed the COI.

 A general view of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 13, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)
A general view of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, June 13, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

GENEVA – Israel on Monday secured the opposition of 22 nations to the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) against it, as the probe’s chairwoman blamed it for the conflict with the Palestinians and called for an arms embargo against the Jewish state.

“The occupation must end,” said Navanethem “Navi” Pillay, who heads the UN Human Rights Council’s three-member COI.

Third-state parties also have a responsibility here and can be culpable when it comes to breaking international law, she said.

“This includes, but is not limited to, the transfer of arms when there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations or abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law,” she added.

Pillay delivered the first of what is expected to be an annual report against Israel to the 47-member UNHRC on the opening day of its 50th session in Geneva. An updated version of the report is expected to be given to the UN General Assembly late this year.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. (credit: REUTERS)United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. (credit: REUTERS)

The UN's probe into Israel

The probe is set to investigate alleged Israeli human-rights abuses within sovereign Israel and against the Palestinian living over the pre-1967 lines in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

No vote was required with respect to this first annual report. But Israel, together with the United States, garnered a list of 22 UN nations including themselves who opposed the COI.

US Ambassador to the UN Michelle Taylor read out a statement against the report, saying her country was not part of the UNHRC and was not part of the council when it approved the COI in a 24-9 vote last year.

Israel is the only UN member state against whom there is an open-ended permanent probe.

This probe has an “open-ended mandate with no sunset clause, end date or clear limitations,” Taylor said.

"We believe the nature of the COI established last May is a further demonstration of disproportionate attention given to Israel that has carried over from the founding of this Council and must stop."

US Ambassador to the UN Michelle Taylor

“We continue to believe that this long-standing disproportionate scrutiny [against Israel] should end, and that the council should address all human-rights concerns, regardless of country, in an even-handed manner,” she added.

No one was against scrutiny, and it was the council’s responsibility to promote human rights, Taylor said, adding that such a flawed report was not the proper vehicle by which to do that.

“Regrettably, we are concerned that the Commission of Inquiry will further contribute to the polarization of a situation about which so many of us are concerned,” she said.

The statement was signed by Austria, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, Cameroon, Colombia, Croatia, Eswatini, Germany, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Palau, Togo, the UK and the US.

Israeli reactions

Israel boycotted the debate about the report, and it did not cooperate with the panel. From Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid hailed the 22 nations who signed the US statement.

“This is a day of change in the Human Rights Council, a day when morality prevails over hypocrisy,” he said. “Enough with the biased attitude. Enough with the obsession with Israel.”

Lapid thanked the Biden administration and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for their diplomatic work in securing the 22-nation oppositional bloc. Most of the 22 nations are not UNHRC members, but their stance will count when the report moves to the UNGA later this year.

“I hope that the Human Rights Council will understand the sharp message of the statement [and] dismiss the Commission of Inquiry that was born of sin,” Lapid said.

Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi called for the UNGA to suspend the US’s UNHRC membership.

Pillay in delivering a verbal report to the UNHRC said the legal panel plans to focus on the “root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict.”

While the COI also addressed actions by Palestinian entities and armed groups, the “vast majority” of the focus was directed toward Israel, she said.

The COI’s work already confirmed “the asymmetrical nature of the conflict,” Pillay said. This is not a matter of “two parties on equal footing” but of “one state occupying another,” she added.

It is clear that “this state of “perpetual occupation” of Palestine and long-standing discrimination in both Israel and Palestine is a core underlying root cause of ongoing violence,” said Pillay, who is the former UN high commissioner for human rights.

“Threats of forced displacement, forced displacement, demolitions, settlement construction and expansion, settler violence and the blockade of Gaza have all contributed to and will continue to contribute to cycles of violence,” she said.

Pillay cited the pending evictions of more than 1,000 Palestinians from Firing Range 918 in the South Hebron Hills.

The probe was first created in the aftermath of last year’s Gaza war and the ethnic riots between Jews and Arabs within sovereign Israel. But its mandate is all-encompassing, and it can explore any allegation of human-rights abuses by Israel at any time.

The Palestinians are discriminated against and lack the full range of human rights, Pillay said, adding that this was not a recent issue.

“Successive Israeli governments have developed clear policies for ensuring and entrenching complete control over the entirety of the occupied Palestinian territory as well as the occupied Syrian Golan,” she said.

Pillay also blamed Israel for human-rights abuses by the Palestinians. Israeli actions have created an atmosphere of impunity that has also emboldened the Palestinian duty bearer to commit human-rights abuses among their own people, including the Palestinian Authority’s failure to hold legislative and presidential elections, she said.

Israeli actions against Palestinians have “increased hatred and further acts of violence” that “serve to further fuel endless cycles of conflict on both sides,” she added.

To end the conflict, one must look at the overall narrative, Pillay said.

“It is our strong view, too, that the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, the 15-year blockade of Gaza, and long-standing discrimination within Israel are all linked and cannot be looked at in isolation,” she said.

The COI plans to conduct its own investigations and legal analyses prior to making recommendations to the international community and judicial bodies, particularly its respect to accountability, Pillay said.

“The international community must urgently explore new ways of ensuring compliance with international law,” she said.

The international community had a double standard when it came to holding Israel accountable, Pillay said.

She also took issue with the 25% reduction in the number of funds allocated to the COI.

“We ask members of the council to consider measures to reinstate resources to enable the commission to operate at an adequate capacity,” Pillay said.