On May 2, Israel is to be reviewed by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) as part of its periodic review of country compliance with the International Convention Against Torture. On the surface, this event appears to be impartial; Israel is subject to review like every other signatory to the Convention.
However, as with almost every UN activity related to Israel, disproportionate focus, double standards, and exploitation infect the process, further destroying the UN’s credibility and irreparably damaging international human rights norms. Politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive millions of taxpayer funding from European governments play a large role in this phenomenon.
The disproportionate NGO focus on Israel is testament to Israel’s democracy, where so many NGOs flourish and are able to freely report. At the same time, it is also indicative of the massive NGO industry targeting the Arab-Israeli conflict and the practices of Western countries confronting asymmetrical warfare, whereby dozens of groups get millions of euros, pounds, kroner, dollars, and francs to carry out campaigns in international frameworks such as CAT.
The most glaring abuse of the CAT process by NGOs appears in their attempts to severely distort the meaning of Article 16 of the Convention that governs “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” (CIDT). According to Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture and CIDT, Article 16 is meant to cover acts that fall short of the Article 1 definition of torture, namely the “disproportionate exercise of police powers” towards detainees. NGOs, though, seek to define as CIDT acts that in no way fall under this definition, including “access to health care in Gaza,” restrictions on Israeli residency permits, settlement building, and the “disjoining” of Gaza and the West Bank.
Due to these distortions, and as with most frameworks where political advocacy NGOs play an outsized role, independent verification and analysis of NGO claims to the CAT is essential. The members of the Committee cannot afford to take shortcuts in this regard.
Likewise, the media, government officials, and policy makers would be well-advised to conduct their own due diligence at how NGOs influence the process – before they uncritically cite and rely on the CAT’s resulting report.