U.N. Human Rights Council Retaining Its Bias Against Israel

June 17, 2011 - 4:37 AM

Israel HRC

Israeli ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva. (AP Photo/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. General Assembly is set to pass a resolution on Friday afternoon that will retain Israel as the only country out of 192 member-states to be the target of a dedicated permanent item on the agenda of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The move comes two days after an Obama administration official gave a speech saying that its deeper engagement with the United Nations has helped to counter the body’s anti-Israel bias.

The General Assembly vote will ensure that, as the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) approaches its sixth year, its disproportionate focus on Israel will remain. The resolution adopts the outcome of a five-year review which the U.S. and other mostly Western democracies had hoped would improve the council by removing some of the identified faults.

However, two of the most glaring flaws – the skewed attention paid to Israel and the absence of enforceable criteria for HRC membership – will remain unchanged.

The HRC has ten permanent items on its agenda, ranging from “organizational and procedural matters” (item one) to “technical assistance and capacity-building” (item ten).

Only two of the 10 items deal with specific human rights situations. One, item four, is entitled “Human rights situations that require the council’s attention,” potentially covering situation across the entire globe.

The other, item seven, deals with the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.”

The resolution to be voted on in New York on Friday maintains that anomaly.

Agenda item seven was back on the table on Tuesday in Geneva, where the council is wrapping its 17th regular three-week session.

During the debate, Israel repeatedly was condemned by Arab and Islamic states and their allies – which continue to dominate the council – including some countries which themselves face charges of responding violently to dissent.

Syria HRC

Syrian ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui speaks during the Human Rights Council’s special session on the violent crackdown in his country, on Friday, April 29, 2011. (U.N. Photo by Pierre Albouy)

Syrian ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui accused Israel of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” and “state terrorism. Iran drew attention to the “Zionist regime’s” policies regarding detention and imprisonment of “political prisoners.” Bahrain alleged “deliberate killings” of unarmed Palestinians.

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Islamic bloc, cited “continuous flagrant violations” of Palestinians’ right to life and self-determination, while Cuba complained that Israel demonstrated a lack of respect for the U.N. by ignoring its recommendations.

Others criticizing Israel included Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Kuwait. Common themes included last year’s “flotilla incident” and the recent deadly clashes along the disputed Israeli-Syria border.

In response, Israeli envoy Aharon Leshno-Yaar said that amid the turmoil and change in the Arab world, the HRC still appeared to be “mired” in the issue of Israel. His country was clearly not before the council because of any current burning human rights need, he added.

During contributions by non-governmental organizations, Hillel Neuer of the Geneva-based NGO U.N. Watch rebuked the council for focusing on Israel at a time “when citizens were being “persecuted or massacred by their own governments, in Syria, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere.”

“History will record that at a time when citizens across the Middle East were being attacked by their own government – by rifles, tanks, and helicopters – the U.N. focused its scarce time and attention on a country in that region where this is not happening; the only country in the region which, despite its flaws, respects the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion …” he said.

(A number of members of the HRC on Wednesday signed up to a statement condemning human rights violations in Syria. The statement was delivered by the Canadian envoy on behalf of 54 countries.)

‘Egregious’

The Obama administration, which reversed its predecessor’s policy and joined the HRC in 2009, has been fending off calls to reduce U.S. contributions to the United Nations.

As part of this campaign, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer delivered a speech Wednesday highlighting the administration’s efforts to counter bias against Israel at the U.N. and the HRC.

Before the U.S. joined the council, she told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, far too much of its attention focused on Israel, while far too little attention was “directed to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations.”

The U.S. took its seat on the council for the first time in June 2009, at the start of its 11th regular session.

Before then, the HRC had held nine emergency “special sessions” relating to rights abuses in specific countries, five of them dedicated to Israel. Since the U.S. joined, the council has held a further four special sessions dealing with specific countries, one of them on Israel.

The HRC has passed a total of 79 resolutions relating to specific countries, according to statistics kept by the Hudson Institute’s Eye on the U.N. project. Of the 79, almost half (38) deal with Israel, while the rest relate to situations in 15 other countries. Of the 38 dealing with Israel, 14 were passed after the U.S. joined.

Brimmer conceded that the council remains flawed.

“We continue to protest the egregious permanent agenda item on Israel,” she said. “But we have managed to use every opportunity to shift the focus of the debate at the council addressing the most serious human rights abusers, rather than unfairly singling out Israel.”