Why Israel is right to sever ties with the UN Human Rights Council

After years of painstakingly biased activity towards it from the UN Human Rights Council, Israel has finally taken the right step and severed ties. The US and Europe must now follow suit

Avigdor Lieberman (Israel's Foreign Minister) has cut all ties with the UN HRC
Sam Gindill
On 28 March 2012 13:45

"Very unfortunate" was the response of the President of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Uruguay’s Laura Dupuy Lasserre, to the news on Monday that Israel was cutting all working relations with the Council. But the words ‘very unfortunate’ or even downright outrageous can be more aptly employed to describe the most recent session of the UNHRC – a session that has seen yet more resolutions passed that are sharply critical of Israel and the establishment of a fact finding mission investigating Israeli settlements.

This fact finding mission is charged with determining the effects upon the Palestinian population of the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Passed overwhelmingly by 36 to one (the USA) with 10 abstentions, this resolution clearly shows the lack of support for Israel at the Council and led to Binyamin Netanyahu decrying that the Council ‘should be ashamed of itself’.

When turmoil still envelopes much of the Arab World and Jewish school children are brutally murdered in the heart of Europe in the name of the Palestinian people, is there really nothing more important that the Council could focus on?

But the truth here is that this Council has never been a friend of, nor even balanced when it comes to Israel. In the 19 sessions the Human Rights Council has had since its creation in 2006, all but five have seen Israel brought up and condemned. By my calculations, almost 39 percent of country specific resolutions passed by the Council have been in regards to Israel/Palestine, while other, often more egregious situations, are all but ignored – Sudan and Burma being the closest competitors for the Council’s attention, with just six resolutions each.  


In essence, this means that the building of residential units in a disputed territory is frequently held to be a more insidious violation of human rights than say, in Darfur where the death toll has been estimated at over 300,000.

The Council has consistently shed its mandate, calling for all situations to be treated in an equal manner, and has followed in its predecessor’s (the discredited Commission on Human Rights) footsteps. Israel is castigated and chastised while some of the world’s harshest autocrats are let off scot free, or better yet, as in the case of Libya under Ghadaffi in 2010 or Saudi Arabia under King Abdullah in 2009, elected to sit on the Council itself.

But this is hardly surprising in a body where more than half the members are from the African and Asian regional groups. The geopolitical makeup of these areas, with large numbers of autocratic regimes and poor human rights records, means that the Council’s attention is largely sidelined from dealing with country specific situations, with the one exception of Israel.

The dominance of the anti-Israel Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) can explain the willingness of Council members to disproportionately focus on Israel. Pressure is mounted on states to vote with the OIC on resolutions proposed by their member states, and dissenters are often punished by the economically and politically powerful organisation.

What is surprising, however, is that Israel had not cut all relations with the Council sooner. It was one of only four states (along with the USA, the Marshall Islands and Palau) to vote against the creation of the new Council and bias was seen from the get go with the resolution creating the fact finding mission on the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, ex ante declaring Israel guilty of war crimes and ‘the massacre of thousands of civilians’.

Israel has finally seen this body for what it is: morally bankrupt. And it has refused to have any more dealings with the Council, its members and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Rafi Shotz, the Israeli deputy Director-General for Europe, when reprimanding the ambassadors of Austria and Belgium for their countries’ votes supporting the creation of the fact finding mission into the impact of the settlements, stated, "when you voted you knew perfectly well what the result would be and how one-sided the decision was".

Rather, when any state participates in the Council it should know what the result will be; time and time again it will be one-sided, unbalanced and anti-Israel.

It is now high time for other, especially European, states to realise how delegitimised this Council is when it comes to dealing with country specific situations in general, and Israel in particular, and follow of the example of Avigdor Lieberman (Israel’s Foreign Minister) to cut all ties with the Human Rights Council.

The United States, as the self-declared guarantor of global human rights, gains nothing from its participation in the Council. The reversal of President Bush’s policy of boycotting the HRC, by Obama in 2009, lends it undue legitimacy and should be reversed, once again, as a matter of course.

Without the US, Israel and other European states, this Human Rights Council would be as it ought to be: a talking head with no real power.

Sam Gindill has researched extensively the relationship between Israel and the UN Human Rights Council and has recently completed a dissertation on the subject

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