Israel Boycotts Review at UN Human Rights Council

Israel boycotts a UNHRC review of its rights situation, after cutting off ties with the body due to ongoing bias.

Elad Benari ,

View of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
View of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
AFP photo

Israel on Tuesday became the first country to boycott a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) review of its rights situation, sparking heated debate among diplomats on how to respond, AFP reports.

"I see that the delegation of Israel is not in the room," council president Remigiusz Henczel told the delegates at the United Nations in Geneva.

Israel is not a member of the council but, like all 193 UN countries, it is required to undergo Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) of its human rights situation.

In March of 2012, the 47-nation UNHRC adopted a resolution establishing a “fact-finding mission” on how the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (Yehuda and Shomron) affect the lives of Palestinian Authority Arabs.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry subsequently decided to sever its ties with the UNHRC, saying the decision stems from a series of unilateral moves that the "Palestinians" are trying to lead against Israel. As such, its absence from the review was no surprise.

Earlier Tuesday, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman told AFP the country intended to boycott the meeting.

"We cut all our contacts with the council last March, including the current activity," spokesman Yigal Palmor said, stressing, "Our policy has not changed."

Israel's failure to show up for its UPR marks the first time since the reviews began in 2007 that a country under evaluation has been absent, and it was unclear how the rights council would react.

Henczel called on the council to adopt a draft decision on how to react, including urging Israel to resume its cooperation with the UPR process.

It also called for Israel's review to be rescheduled for no later than during the UPR session starting in October this year.

Delegates then took the floor, with Egypt's representative declaring that the council faced “a moment of truth,” according to AFP.

He cautioned that taking a "soft" approach towards Israel would create a dangerous precedent and leave "a wide-open door for more cases of non-cooperation."

Israel's main ally in the council, the United States, however gave its full backing to Henczel's proposal, with ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe insisting in a statement -- without mentioning Israel by name -- that the text reflected the “best effort to find common ground and to protect the UPR mechanism going forward.”

Last week Donahoe urged Israel to take part in the review.

Britain called for a "proportionate and balanced conclusion", while the Irish representative for the European Union urged a "consensual" way forward.

The Pakistani representative implicitly criticized those urging a soft reaction.

"We wonder ... whether this kind of cooperative spirit would be extended to some other countries that are not as close to some of the major powers in the world," he said, according to AFP.

Despite the range of opinions, the council in the end adopted Henczel's proposal by consensus.