On October 29, the review of Israel is scheduled for its quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). However, barring a last-minute diplomatic breakthrough, it is unlikely that Israel will show up. And predictable, self-righteous condemnations, such as the piece published this week in Haaretz by the director-general of Amnesty International, Israel, will not convince Israel to participate.
Following the March 2012 Council session, Israel’s foreign minister terminated all contacts with the HRC due to its obsessive bias and double standards targeting the Jewish State. The cessation of links meant that Israel would also not participate in its UPR.
Israel did not attend the originally scheduled review on January 29 of this year, and the UN has been desperate for the makeup session to take place. UN officials are very worried because if Israel doesn’t participate in the UPR, it may force the HRC to end the stranglehold of abusive regimes over the institution and to enact long overdue reforms.
The UPR was instituted as the centerpiece of the newly-created HRC in 2006, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights. The Commission was disbanded after being hijacked by dictatorships and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. This huge embarrassment was compounded by its singular focus on Israel. According to UN Watch, approximately half of all country-specific resolutions condemned Israel.
The Commission’s permanent standing agenda included the notorious “Item 7,” (a requirement to report on the “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), meaning that Israel was the only country singled out at every session. Inevitably, this resulted in incessant discussion of alleged Israeli violations against Palestinians. By 2005, the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan remarked, “The Commission’s ability to perform its tasks has been . . . undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work.”
The UPR was created to ostensibly remedy this pervasive one-sidedness, implementing a peer review of the human rights records of every UN member state once every four years. It was heavily promoted by officials from NGOs, Europe, and the UN as the linchpin of the HRC and proof of its “reformed” character.
In spite of the promises, the new HRC differed little from the Commission. Dictatorships and Islamic regimes continued to dominate the council and its leadership. Israel is blocked from membership and Agenda Item 7 has remained. Resolutions against Israel outnumbered those issued against any other country by orders of magnitude, and 5 of the first 9 special sessions targeted Israel. Prompted by the Arab League and the OIC, coupled with intensive lobbying by Amnesty International and other NGOs, there were at least four separate “fact-finding” missions aimed at Israel, most notably the Goldstone Report. Follow-up committees for these missions (some of them now four years old), continue to be placed on the agenda at every HRC session – wasting precious time and resources.
The first round of UPR, which concluded in 2011, also failed to live up to the ideal. Although every country participated, the meetings usually consisted of dictators patting each other on the back for their “stellar” human rights records. Bashing Israel, and Canada for its support of Israel, stood in for “constructive dialogue.”
Based on this sorry history, the March 2012 HRC session was the last straw for Israel. While thousands were being butchered by President Bashar Assad in Syria, the HRC outrageously passed a resolution condemning Israel for the “suffering of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan.” In addition, thanks to campaigning by several European-government funded NGOs, seeking to lay the groundwork for an anti-Israel case at the International Criminal Court, the HRC created yet another fact-finding mission against Israel. This time, Israel decided to disengage entirely from the farce.
Once HRC officials realized that Israel’s decision would also affect the UPR, they panicked. The UPR can only work if it is truly universal. But, without the UPR, the façade of a reformed Human Rights Council is laid bare. The Council’s President has sent letters to Israel trying to guilt trip it into participation by ironically promoting the “universality” of the process. The HRC has also openly chastised Israel for refusing to participate in the discredited framework.
Of course, neither UN officials nor its allies in Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations have promoted steps to end the stalemate, like repealing the tainted Agenda Item 7 or demanding an end to the HRC’s systemic bias. Instead, in typical HRC fashion, Venezuela was selected to preside over Israel’s UPR.
The fact is that the UN, Amnesty, and others that have enabled the dysfunctional state of affairs at the UN’s Human Rights Council, and they have no one to blame but themselves. If the collapse of the UPR is what it takes to force real change at the HRC and to end the stranglehold of abusive regimes at that institution, it will be worth it.
Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution.