Sweden, UPR Report Consideration

Antisemitism in Sweden is serious and increasing, and the response of the government is clearly inadequate. In Malmo, Gothenburg and elsewhere, threats and violence targeting Jews and synagogues continue. According to EU reports, ninety percent of Swedish Jews say antisemitism is growing, and do not believe the government is fighting Jew hatred, including anti-Zionist attacks, effectively.

The ritual condemnations of political leaders are insufficient, and another international conference on antisemitism, initially planned for October 2020, will not address the hate within Swedish society.1

The omission of antisemitism in the January 2020 Compilation on Sweden Report of the OHCHR is itself a fundamental failure, as is the absence of a response to the Universal Periodic Review Report of the Working Group on Sweden, which calls for “the full implementation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.”

Instead, Swedish officials repeats vague language referring to “certain measures geared towards combatting specific forms of racism such as antisemitism.” The special envoy in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, whose duties “include strengthening work against anti-Semitism” has no visible impact within Sweden.

Government bodies, such the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), contribute to hate by singling out the Jewish state for attack, in violation of the International Holocaust Working Definition of Antisemitism. Major SIDA grantees such as Diaknoia disseminate false and ideologically-based allegations of “collective punishment,” “war crimes,” and “violation[s] of international humanitarian law.” And SIDA’s in-house publication Omvarlden used antisemitic images to vilify researchers.

For these and many more reasons, the continued failure of Sweden to respond effectively to antisemitism, and to adopt and implement the IHRA working definition, must not be ignored.

Commission of Inquiry on Syria

The ongoing human rights disaster in Syria has numerous causes, including the failure of this body and of those who claim to speak on behalf human rights to act responsibly and morally.

Highly prestigious research centers, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, as well as numerous journalists and media platforms have documented the extensive involvement of the Iranian government in support of the Assad regime. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as the Hezbollah proxy force, based in Lebanon, have contributed significantly to the civilian deaths, wanton destruction, IHL violations, and war crimes.

According to these reports, Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria, equipped with guided missiles, Toophan anti-tank missiles, and possibly chemical weapons. In addition, Iran has also deployed over 2,000 soldiers and controls bases and airfields in Homs, and near Damascus, and supports from 8,000 to 12,000 fighters from Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere. Many civilians have reportedly been killed, including in the Aleppo battles.

As the late Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, observed, open democratic countries provide easier targets for those who claim to promote human rights, or who set their agendas based on ideology, in contrast to moral principles. But in parallel, the war crimes in Syria continue.

HRC Advisory Committee on Terrorism

We welcome that the Advisory Committee is closely examining the negative impact of terrorism on human rights.

Palestinian terrorism has profoundly impacted human rights, including the right to life, right to assembly, right to freedom of movement, and religious freedom. In fact, many of the security protocols we experience today across the globe at airports, sporting events, and public buildings, can be directly attributed to the impact of Palestinian plane hijackings, suicide bombings, and shooting attacks.

Nevertheless, the UN is profoundly ambivalent about Palestinian terrorism. In the 1970s, the gunning down of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and attacks throughout Europe was met with a UN standing ovation for Yassir Arafat. The mass suicide bombings of Israeli civilians in the 1990s and early 2000s led to never-ending condemnations of efforts to stop them.  Today, many UN agencies, including OCHA, UNICEF, and UNDP partner with and fund Palestinian terror-affiliated groups. These immoral collaborations are justified under a claim that Palestinian terror groups are not on a UN terror list, ignoring that the UN deliberately blocks Palestinian terror groups from being included. Such projects entrench conflict and deepen the human rights violations caused by Palestinian violence.

We hope the efforts of the Advisory Committee will finally cause the UN to reckon with its role in promoting Palestinian impunity.

Item 2 – COVID-19 with the High Commissioner

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused innumerable damage to human rights. The effects of this disease on the body are still largely unknown. Hundreds of thousands have died across the globe and millions are suffering from long-lasting symptoms. Families are separated. Economies are in shambles and many have lost their livelihood. The actual impact of Covid will never be truly known.

Nevertheless, this Council has a responsibility to investigate 2 important aspects of this pandemic. First, the Council must investigate the treatment of the elderly, particularly those trapped and exposed in care homes. In some European countries, elderly lives were callously disregarded in a macabre and immoral accounting of human value.

Second. It is clear that the Covid-19 pandemic reached catastrophic proportions due to Chinese government secrecy and its repression against those trying to expose the true scope of the Wuhan outbreak. We do not know how this virus began nor what other information has been hidden by China. This cover-up was made even worse by the WHO that aided and abetted the unconscionable actions of the Chinese government.

The fight against the pandemic cannot occur without a public reckoning. This Council must order an independent investigation on the violation of the rights of the elderly. And it must also investigate the Chinese government and its responsibility for the Covid-19 pandemic. The world has a right to know.

Item 3 – Older Persons

We thank the Independent Expert for her report and for calling attention to the systematic abuse and neglect of older persons.

These violations have been all the more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. The group that has been most impacted by Covid is the elderly.  The vast majority of deaths are people over the age of 70. A huge proportion were infected while living in care homes. Some countries even employed an immoral calculus devaluing the worth of elderly lives and denying them life-saving medical care.

For example, in Sweden more than half of Covid-19 deaths occurred in nursing homes.  In France, thousands have died in these facilities.  Even months after the pandemic began, governments failed to adopt sufficient protocols to protect residents. At the home of my close relative living in Quebec, nearly half of the residents became infected and more than 40 died.

In Sweden and other countries, life-saving emergency health care was denied the elderly under a perverse justification that older lives are less important. Families of the sick were pressured into waiving critical care. Similarly, deaths were trivialized because the people were “just old” or sick or “would have died anyway” within the year.

As the IE notes, these incidents reflect deep-rooted ageism. If this Council truly wishes to have an impact on human rights, it should support the IE in conducting a full and thorough examination of how the elderly have been treated during the pandemic and how their rights have been erased.

Item 4 – Burundi

We welcome the report of the COI. In particular, we wish to commend the Commission for prioritizing the issues of humanitarian aid diversion, the need for government transparency, and the importance of speaking out against ethnically-based incitement. As an Israeli NGO, we are well versed in how the failure by the Palestinian Authority and its donor governments to tackle these issues is a primary driver of human rights abuses and armed conflict.

Freedom of information and transparency relating to humanitarian aid, government activities and expenditures is the hallmark of good governance and essential to democracy. Exposing this information must not be suppressed under a claimed rationale of censoring free speech. NGOs that publish and analyze such information are critical to a functional civil society and should not be subject to harassment and defamation campaigns by international donors, government actors, or other NGOs.  We therefore recommend the COI to continue its work documenting aid and other financial flows, and whether the funding is being used for its intended purposes.

To that end, although the COI’s report is marked as final, given the significant human rights issues plaguing Burundi, and given the work done by the COI that is not only of importance for Burundi, but presents standards that are applicable for many areas in conflict, we urge the Council to renew the mandate of the COI.

Item 5 – Reprisals

We welcome the report of the Secretary General on the issue of reprisals. No one working to uphold universal human rights should be targeted for their work.

Unfortunately, too often, individuals and NGOs who claim the mantle of human rights defender have no business in doing so. This is the case with several Palestinian NGOs and officials.

In order to meet the UN’s definition of “Who is a defender,” the individual or organization must accept the universality of human rights and promote peaceful action. They may not be considered a defender if they deny some human rights even if they claim to advocate for others.

Unfortunately, the UN partners with and provides extensive funding to several Palestinian NGOs who promote antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery and campaign for the elimination of Jewish self-determination. Many are even affiliated with terrorist organizations. Some of these NGO officials were responsible for an August 2019 bombing, murdering a 17-year old Israeli girl. One individual is on the board of an NGO that has a prominent relationship with the UN Humanitarian Country Team.

These individuals and organizations are not human rights defenders and calling out their immoral and illegal actions are not reprisals.

We hope the UN will start observing its own human rights standards and stop promoting those who flout them.

Item 10 – Central African Republic

60 years after independence, the Central African Republic remains one of the most vulnerable nations ranking third to last in the Human Development Index. Prolonged armed conflict and lack of sufficient humanitarian aid (in contrast to situations like Gaza that get disproportionate funding) only compound its troubles.

We were therefore disappointed to see the lack of sufficient attention in the IE’s report to the issue of conflict resources. Armed groups use the profits from diamonds, gold, and other commodities to fund weapons purchases and military operations. In response, the government has looked to authoritarian countries that are only too eager to exploit the desperate situation. These countries divert the CAR’s mineral wealth while at the same time, embedding troops and security apparatuses within the country.

As these countries take advantage of the CAR government, behind the scenes, they double deal with armed groups, profiting as well off of their sale of conflict goods. These countries also help both sides commit human rights and IHL violations against the civilian population. In effect, these countries are establishing occupying regimes where neither the CAR’s government nor its people have control over their personal safety or their economic development.

By not extensively investigating this issue, the IE is failing both the mandate and the responsibility towards the people of the CAR. We hope future reports will call out these governments and give the pressing issue of conflict minerals and foreign exploitation the prominent place it deserves.