US slams UNHRC's singling out of Israel

UN group halts investigations into suspected violations by Belarus, Cuba.

yitzhak levanon un 29888 (photo credit: AP [file])
yitzhak levanon un 29888
(photo credit: AP [file])
The US condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council late Tuesday for its seriously flawed "institution building" package that singled out Israel for special scrutiny as part of a reform package. The first of two measures adopted places Israel automatically on the council's agenda for debate while all other countries in the world are dealt with under an overall global subject heading. The second move calls for Israel's activities in the Palestinian territories to be permanently reviewed until it withdraws from the West Bank. "The Council focused almost exclusively on a single country - Israel - failing to address serious human rights violations in other countries such as Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Belarus, and Cuba," said US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement released to the press following the decision. Furthermore, said the spokesman, the Council aggravated problems by terminating the mandates of the UN rapporteurs on the Governments of Cuba and Belarus, calling them "two of the world's most active perpetrators of serious human rights violations. "We are concerned about the procedural irregularities employed last night denying Council members the opportunity to vote on this agenda. The Human Rights Council was intended to be the world's leading human rights protection mechanism. Its proceedings should be a model of fairness and transparency. Instead, in the interest of political expediency, procedural irregularities denied members the right to an up or down vote on principled human rights concerns - a right guaranteed by the rules of the institution," McCormack added. The measures were also condemned by Israel's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yitzhak Levanon. "It is unacceptable. This is not a bright day for human rights," Levanon told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. The council, which has been in existence for only a year, replaced the Human Rights Commission, which was scrapped largely because it allowed 'abuser nations' such as Sudan and Libya to take part and repeatedly singled out Israel. But Levanon said that the council's actions on Tuesday proved once again that it was no better then the old commission. "The agenda includes one item which purports to consider the promotion of all human rights in the world, but also contains an item that curiously selects one situation [Israel] for heightened consideration above all others," said Levanon in an address before the council on Tuesday. The move, he said, "perpetuates the immoral fixation on Israel." He added that "The world aspired to remedy the terminally-ill Commission on Human Rights but regrettably, [it has] created a new body with the same old afflictions." At the same time the Council heightened its focus on Israel, it halted investigations into Cuba and Belarus - a move that immediately drew fire from Canada as well as the United States. The decisions were part of a package of reforms adopted by the members of the Human Rights Council to change how it conducts its future work, including how and when to launch investigations into some of the world's worst rights offenders. The council passed the compromise package despite objections from Canada over plans to continue singling out Israel for scrutiny. The European Union, which played a key role in the negotiations, said ahead of the meeting that it remained to be seen how the council could perform on the basis of the agreement. "The package is certainly not ideal, but we have a basis we can work with," said Ambassador Michael Steiner of Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency. "The package must prove its value in practice." The United States - which is only an observer to the 47-nation body - has been skeptical since the beginning. Among the changes was the establishment of a "universal periodic review" mechanism under which all countries would have their rights record examined regularly. Nine other expert mandates, including on Haiti, Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea and the Palestinian territories, will continue. An influential Cuban-American member of Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, said she would seek to halt US funding to the council because of the "hopelessly flawed" rules exempting Cuba and Belarus and targeting Israel. Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she plans to offer an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations legislation that was scheduled for a vote later this week by the US House of Representatives. "To its shame, the UN Human Rights Council celebrated its first birthday by giving gifts to Fidel Castro, the authoritarian regime in Belarus and the enemies of the democratic state of Israel," she said. The large Muslim and African groups, which dominate the council, had lobbied hard to minimize the scope for naming and shaming countries over their human rights records, but make an exception for Israel, the only government explicitly criticized so far by the body. Censure by the council brings no sanctions beyond international scrutiny. The new agreement contains an agenda for future council meetings that provides for regular discussions of "human rights violations and implications of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and other occupied Arab territories." The United States expressed its regret over the Israel provision. "The United States cautions that a biased, permanent agenda on the occupied Palestinian territories, and the arbitrary elimination of two vital country mandates, Cuba and Belarus, raise serious questions about the institutional priorities of the Human Rights Council," US Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor said. Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report.