For the first time, Israeli expert chosen to chair UN Human Rights Committee

Professor Yuval Shany will lead body that reviews state adherence to civil and political rights charter, independent of the better-known UN Rights Council

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Human rights law expert Yuval Shany (YouTube screenshot)
Human rights law expert Yuval Shany (YouTube screenshot)

An Israeli law professor has been chosen to chair the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a panel of experts who review the adherence of member states to a rights charter.

Yuval Shany, who is deputy president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law, was selected Monday in a unanimous decision by the Geneva-based committee’s 18 members.

According to its website, the committee “monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its State parties.”

Although Israelis have been members of the committee in the past, it was the first time one was chosen to lead the body.

Speaking to Army Radio on Tuesday morning, Shany, who has been a member of the committee since 2013, admitted that the forum is often confused with the UN Human Rights Council — which has gained notoriety in Israel for its persistent condemnation of the Jewish state.

“If I had a shekel for every time that people confuse between the two bodies my financial situation would be different,” he joked.

Shany, an expert in humanitarian law and human rights, admitted his selection involved some behind the scenes “conversations, a little lobbying… it wasn’t very dramatic or very interesting.”

“Global politics plays much less of a role” in the professional committee, he explained. “People are chosen — quite surprisingly in that environment — according to their suitability for the position.”

The previous chair left a month ago to become a judge at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Shany said he would start work in his new role Tuesday, when Bahrain is to face the committee, followed by Algeria later in the week. Countries are called on to submit reports on their adherence to the rights covenant which are then reviewed by the committee. The committee convenes for a four-week session three times a year.

At some point, Israel too will be asked to appear before the forum of experts, an event that happens every few years.

“Unlike the Council,” Shany noted, “where Israel is always present.”

Last month the US pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council, citing its “chronic bias against Israel” at the 47-nation body. Israel, though not a member, has said it will reduce its participation in council events.

The rights council and the rights committee sit under the auspices of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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