By Ali Al-Bassam
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
JERUSALEM, Israel — Last Tuesday, Israel became the first country ever to boycott the United Nations’ human rights forum, which had allegedly planned to scrutinize Israel’s record.
The United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was set to conduct a Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which in every four years reviews the human rights record of the 193 U.N. member states. Israel stopped cooperating with the council after it comprised a committee to review Israeli settlements and their effect on Palestinian human rights. The last time Israel cooperated with the council was in 2008. It is not a member of the 47 member state council.
“I see that Israel is not in the room,” said Council President Remigiusz Henczel to delegates present at the United Nations in Geneva. Henczel was urged by the council to encourage Israel’s participation in the rights review.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor made it clear that Israel intended to boycott the review. “We cut all our contacts with the council last March, including the current activity,” said Palmor. “Our policy has not changed.”
Arab states specifically were set to criticize Israel for its naval blockage and settlement expansion of the Gaza Strip. Palestinians see these acts as collective punishment, yet Israel finds them vital for security.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the group is concerned that Israel was creating an “unhealthy precedent” which other countries would follow in boycotting the UPR process. “What is surprising for us, is the level of leverage and understanding that is being extended to Israel by some countries for its behavior in violation of all its international obligations,” Akram said.
Ireland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union said it appealed to Israel to join the review, saying that a phone conversation held earlier with Israel on calling of the boycott was a “positive signal.”
Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Ambassador to the UNHRC, addressed the council on the matter last Tuesday. She avoided naming Israel, but stressed how essential it is for Washington to ensure that all countries’ human rights records are examined. “The Universal Periodic Review has been a valuable mechanism both becasue it is universally applicable to all U.N. member states on equal terms and because it is conducted in a cooperative and collaborative manner.”
Eight Israeli human rights groups called on Israel to reverse its decision and participate in the UPR. However, United Nations Watch Director Hillel Neuer said that Israel is justified in its boycott, saying that the council had a history of signaling out Israel, and that it had passed more resolutions against Israel then all other countries combined.
For further information, please see:
Israel Hayom — Israel First Country Ever to Boycott UN Human Rights Review — 30 January 2013
Al Jazeera — Israel Boycotts UN Human Rights Council — 29 January 2013
Jerusalem Post — UN Avoids Israel Showdown, Delays Rights Review — 29 January 2013
JTA — Israel Boycotts Scheduled U.N. Review of Human Rights Practices — 29 January 2013