[Opinion] Showdown between UN Human Rights Council and Israel?
Another major confrontation is brewing between Israel and the United Nations. On January 29, Israel is scheduled for its quadrennial Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council (HRC). Following the March 2012 Council session, however, Israel’s foreign minister ceased all contacts with the HRC due to its obsessive bias and double standards targeting the Jewish State. As a result, Israel will not participate in UPR.
This has UN officials very worried, and for good reason. If Israel fails to show up for UPR, this may force the HRC to end the stranglehold of abusive regimes over the institution, and implement long overdue reforms.
UPR was instituted as the focal point of the newly-created HRC in 2006, which was established as a correction to its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. The Commission was disbanded after being hijacked by dictatorships and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The huge embarrassment was compounded by a singular focus on Israel. According to UN Watch, approximately half of all country-specific resolutions condemned the Jewish state.
The Commission’s standing agenda included the notorious “Item 7,” 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 the point that UN Secretary General Kofi Anan remarked, “the Commission’s ability to perform its tasks has been . . . undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work.”
UPR was created to ostensibly remedy the pervasive one-sidedness by 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 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Europe, and the UN as the linchpin of the HRC and proof of its “reformed” and universally-concerned character, despite the perpetuation of Agenda Item 7 on Israel. Human Rights Watch (HRW) in particular lobbied extensively for UPR.
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. 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 campaigning by HRW, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, and other NGOs, there have been at least four separate “fact-finding” missions aimed at Israel, most notably the Goldstone Mission. Follow-up committees, reports for Goldstone (ignoring the repudiation of the report by Judge Goldstone himself), and the other inquiries continue to be placed on the agenda at every HRC session – wasting precious time and resources.
And although every country participated in the first round of the UPR process, which concluded in 2011, the meetings usually consisted of dictators patting each other on the back for their stellar human rights records. Bashing Israel and Canada 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 the Assad regime in Syria, the HRC outrageously passed a resolution condemning Israel for the “suffering of Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan.” Due to intense lobbying by several European-government funded NGOs, including Al Haq and Badil, seeking to lay the groundwork for a new campaign against Israelis at the International Criminal Court, the HRC also initiated 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 UPR, they panicked. UPR can only work if there is 100% state participation. Without UPR, the façade of a reformed HRC is now in jeopardy. On November 28, 2012, the HRC President sent a desperate letter to Israel trying to guilt it into participation by ironically promoting the “universality” of the process. When Israel didn’t bite, the HRC met this week and openly chastised Israel for refusing to participate in the discredited framework.
In concert with the UN, NGOs predictably began issuing condemnations. The NGO WILPF, in Orwellian fashion, lamented that “Letting the non-cooperation of a State produce a double standard in the UPR process and setting such a precedent would undermine its object and purpose,” while ignoring the decades of double standards aimed at Israel. No doubt, similarly self-righteous statements will soon appear from HRW and others.
Of course, none of these actors offered to take concrete steps, such as repealing Agenda Item 7, to end the systemic bias at the HRC. And in typical HRC fashion, Venezuela was selected to preside over Israel’s UPR in absentia.
The fact is that the UN, HRW, and the other organizations that are responsible for the dysfunctional state of affairs at the HRC have no one to blame but themselves. Some have engaged in half-hearted efforts to end the bias, while others have actively encouraged it through activities like the immoral Goldstone process. If the collapse of 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, the author of “NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” and the co-editor of “The Goldstone Report ‘Reconsidered’: A Critical Analysis”.