Germany said to warn Israel over skipping UN human rights review

Israel severed contact with the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, but Berlin and others reportedly pressuring Israel to submit to periodic check

The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)
The Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council (CC BY-US Mission Geneva/Flickr/File)

Israel has come under increasing pressure to attend a United Nations human rights review, scheduled for this Tuesday, and has reportedly been warned that a failure to attend would cause harmful diplomatic fallout.

The review, a Universal Periodic Review carried out by the UN Human Rights Council, is obligatory every few years for all UN members, but foreign minister Avigdor Liberman severed Israel’s relationship with the HRC in 2012 after the agency announced a probe into Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Friday sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging Israeli to attend the review, Haaretz reported on Sunday. The letter acknowledged Israel’s difficulties with the HRC, but said not attending would have “serious consequences.”

If Israel does not attend, the report noted, it will be the first country to fail to attend its Universal Periodic Review, and it is feared that such a refusal will set a precedent for other countries to do the same.

In recent weeks Israel has reportedly been in discussions with other UN member states over a way for Israel to resume cooperation with the HRC, and therefore attend the periodic review. Israel participated in the first round of reviews, which was concluded by October 2011, but has so far failed to indicate whether it would participate in the second round, which is currently ongoing.

Representatives from Jerusalem skipped a meeting in January to determine the three-member jury picked to oversee the review — Maldives, Sierra Leone and Venezuela — drawing calls by Pakistan for punitive action. Representatives of other countries also urged Israel to return to the fold and comply with the UNHRC’s review processes, but refrained from calling for punitive action, according to UN Watch, which attended the meeting.

Israel has laid out two conditions, according to the Haaretz report: a limit to the implementation of Article 7, the permanent agenda item on the UN Human Rights Council which uniquely demands a discussion of Israel’s human rights issues at every meeting, and a way for Israel to join the UN’s Western Europe and Others Group, which would end Israel’s regional isolation at the UN (the country currently does not belong to a regional group, which limits Israel’s participation in UN activities).

Israel’s acceptance into the Western Europe and Others Group would require a unanimous vote from the member states comprising that group. In his letter to Netanyahu, the German foreign minister said that Israel’s attendance at the review would create “the best conditions for its being accepted into the Western European and Others Group.”

In January, Israel’s permanent representative to the Geneva-based UNHRC, Ambassador Eviatar Manor, spoke to the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, about postponing the review.

Manor said then that “Israel respected all human rights mechanisms, although it had a complex and difficult relation with the Council and OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights],” according to the official minutes of the meeting.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report

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