Jerusalem to boycott UN human rights review

Jerusalem to boycott UN human rights review

UNHRC threatens ‘action’ against Israel, which cut ties with the body in March, if it fails to show up for Tueday’s evaluation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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 will not participate in a routine evaluation of its human rights situation to be conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council, being the only of 193 UN member states to boycott the periodic review process.

Anticipating such a step, the Geneva-based council threatened Israel with “as yet unspecified action” if it fails to appear at its review, which is scheduled for Tuesday.

Earlier this month, The Times of Israel reported that Israel’s permanent representative to the UNHRC, Ambassador Eviatar Manor, spoke to the council’s president, Remigiusz Henczel, in what was believed to be the first senior-level official dealing between the two parties since Israel unilaterally severed ties and ceased cooperating with the body last March over a planned fact-finding mission into the West Bank settlement enterprise.

Manor’s January 10 phone call to Henczel fueled hopes that Israel might participate in the so-called Universal Periodic Review, a standard assessment of the human rights records of all UN member states overseen by the council since its founding in 2006.

Israel participated in the first round of reviews, which was concluded by October 2011. Manor asked Henczel to postpone Israel’s review, without giving any reason for his request.

But on Sunday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor ended all speculation: “We are under an ongoing policy of suspension of all our contacts with the Human Rights Council in Geneva and all its branches,” he told The Times of Israel, “after their sequence of systematically anti-Israel moves, which have come to contradict the mission statement of the organizations and sheer common sense.”

On January 18, UNHRC spokesman Rolando Gomez said Israel’s review  — which is to be overseen by the Maldives, Sierra Leone and Venezuela — was still scheduled for Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., and that “if a delegation from the country was not to attend then action, as yet unspecified, would be taken.”

He also explained that in the UNHRC’s founding resolution states that, “After exhausting all efforts to encourage a State to cooperate with the universal periodic review mechanism, the Council will address, as appropriate, cases of consistent non-cooperation with the mechanism”. If Jerusalem chooses not to be represented on January 29, “then appropriate action would be taken.”

According to Haaretz, senior US officials tried to pressure Israel to suspend its boycott of the UNHRC, as Jerusalem’s failure to participate in the review would create a precedent that could inspire other countries to skip the evaluation as well.

“Tough talks” were held on the matter between senior State Department officials and the head of the Foreign Ministry’s department for foreign organizations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, the paper reported Sunday. The US officials also said that even though Israel’s boycott might be justified, it would eventually harm Israel’s reputation in the international arena.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” Eileen Donahoe, Washington’s ambassador to the UNHRC, told reporters in Geneva last week. “The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed.”

Israel is also expected to not cooperate with a probe into the country’s reported use of drones against Palestinian targets, launched last week, Haaretz reported. Israel does not admit to using drones in aerial strikes. The US and Britain are expected to work with the investigation, which does not have official backing from the UNHCR, but was prompted by requests from China, Russia and Pakistan.

“It’s hard to understand how the countries that initiated this investigation have any moral right to review or to opine on human rights records of other countries,” an anonymous Israeli official said. “Such countries that have long records jailing and/or assassinating their political opponents are in no position to lecture anyone on human rights.”

Israel’s relations with the UNHRC, never good, reached a nadir in March 2012, after the council decided to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to “investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people” throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Incensed about the council’s apparent obsession with Israel, the government in Jerusalem decided not to allow the council to carry out the probe and canceled any cooperation with it.

“From now on, we will no longer work together in any way, shape or form with any officials from the council, including High Commissioner [Navi Pillay],” a top Foreign Ministry official said at the time. “If anyone from the council calls us, we just won’t answer the phone.”

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