UNHRC slams Israel, delays controversial Palestine appointment

Council passes 5 virulently anti-Israel resolutions; ex-Goldstone panel member set to succeed Richard Falk in human rights post

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

A UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva in May 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)
A UN Human Rights Council Meeting in Geneva in May 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

WASHINGTON — On the verge of a controversial announcement declaring a new Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council decided Friday to delay a vote on 18 incoming special rapporteurs by one month.

The decision came hours after the UNHRC voted in a series of five resolutions condemning Israel — resolutions that met with widespread support among most voting members.

The UNHRC acceded to a motion filed by the Peruvian delegation to delay the announcement of nominations and votes to approve the 18 nominees by one month. The Peruvian motion seemed to be unrelated to reports, first revealed by the organization UN Watch on Thursday, that UK academic Christine Chinkin had emerged as the nominee for the Palestine position.

Still, behind the scenes in Geneva, debate and negotiations continued regarding the nominee for the position, recently vacated by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric.

Christine Chinkin (photo credit: Courtesy)
Christine Chinkin (photo credit: Courtesy)

Until this week, Georgetown University law school lecturer Christina Cerna had the unanimous recommendation of the five-member UNHRC vetting committee. In recent days, Arab states threatened to veto Cerna’s appointment after the Arab League complained that she does not have a prior record of statements on Palestinian issues.

Chinkin, on the other hand, was a member of the Goldstone Commission which investigated 2008-9’s Operation Cast Lead, and one of three panel members who later turned against Judge Richard Goldstone when he backtracked from some of the report’s key conclusions, including the assertion that Israel deliberately killed civilians.

Judge Richard Goldstone (second from right) at public hearings in 2009 about alleged Israeli violations committed during Operation Cast Lead (photo credit: UN/Flash 90)
Judge Richard Goldstone (second from right) and Christine Chinkin (right) at public hearings in 2009 about alleged Israeli violations committed during Operation Cast Lead. (photo credit: UN/Flash 90)

In his letter nominating her, Human Rights Council President Baudelaire Ndong Ella wrote that he selected Chinkin after he “undertook a series of consultations with all concern parties, with the view to ensure the broadest possible and highest level of efficiency of the mandate holder.”

Falk’s wife, Hilal Elver, was nominated to serve as the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, while an Israeli – Israel Doron – was named to serve as the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons.

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk (photo credit: UN Watch)
UN special rapporteur Richard Falk (photo credit: UN Watch)

While the votes on the appointments were delayed, the UN body did vote on a series of resolutions that Jewish groups – and the US representative to the UNHRC – denounced as one-sided.

One such resolution, entitled “Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan,” is part of the UNHRC’s permanent Agenda item 7 on Israel. Israel is the only country on the Council’s permanent agenda.

Although the four resolutions that dealt with Palestinian topics were all adopted by a vote of 46 to 1, the fifth, which was sponsored by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and demanded that Israel return the “Syrian Golan,” received more limited support. That resolution passed by a vote of 33 to 1, with 13 abstentions.

During the debate before the votes, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Paula Schriefer denounced the resolutions.

Paula Schriefer (photo credit: US State Department)
Paula Schriefer (photo credit: US State Department)

“None of the world’s worst human rights violators, some of whom are the object of resolutions at this session, have their own stand-alone agenda item at this Council. Only Israel, a vibrant and open democracy, receives such treatment,” said Schriefer.

“Not only are the resolutions under this agenda item biased, but they work against our collective efforts to advance a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” added Schriefer, who led the U.S. delegation to the UNHRC. “This Council continually singles out Israel for criticism without acknowledging the violent attacks directed at its people, nor the obligations and difficult steps of both sides to resolve the conflict.”

The Anti-Defamation League condemned the five resolutions’ passage, warning that one “contains veiled threats of financial repercussions for those doing business with Israeli settlements.” The organization complained that the European members of the UNHRC “willfully turned a blind eye to the amplified demonization of Israel contained in the resolution.”

In anticipation of the UNHRC’s vote on the resolution, ADL wrote to a number of the Council’s members, expressing concern that the resolution was an attack on Israel that was taken beyond previous sessions, and urged the members to vote against its passage, but to no avail.

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote in a statement after the vote that it was “sad that there was not one courageous European voice to say no to this UN infamy.”

“The passage of this anti-Israel resolution demonstrates that the UNHRC’s single-minded focus on Israel and willingness to escalate attacks against the Jewish State is boundless,” Foxman continued. “While somewhat watered down from earlier, more egregious drafts, the resolution’s language – including veiled threats of financial repercussions for companies doing business with Israeli settlements – will undoubtedly serve to bolster advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and their illegitimate hateful campaign against Israel.”

Similarly, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) denounced what AJC Executive Director David Harris described as a “shameful annual exercise of excoriating Israel” which “does nothing to advance the cause of Israeli-Arab peace — or of truth.”

Harris warned that “obsessively singling out one UN member, Israel, totally undermines the very credibility of this UN body.”

“Precisely when Israelis are seeking through negotiations a permanent, sustainable peace agreement, the Human Rights Council has once again seen fit to embolden those Palestinians who believe they can skirt the peace process and rely on international pressure on Israel,” Harris added.

The AJC pointed to the fact that during the council’s meetings, debate on Israel is handled in one agenda item, while the other 192 countries that are UN members are dealt with in another, single agenda item.

“Once again, the primary human rights organ of the UN has sabotaged its promise of fairness, a vow central to the UN Charter itself, and to the resolution creating the Human Rights Council,’ said Harris.

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