|For Immediate Release:|
October 27, 2013
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This article by Anne Bayefsky originally appeared on The Jerusalem Post.
The UPR was concocted after the credibility of the Council’s predecessor – the UN Human Rights Commission – finally took a fatal hit. On March 15, 2006, with the United States and Israel voting against, the General Assembly pushed the Commission out one door and dragged the Council in through another. The “reform” of the UN’s top human rights body was fundamentally flawed, however, since American efforts to condition membership on some degree of actually protecting human rights, were totally rejected.
The UPR has been called the Council’s most important innovation. Then President of the General Assembly, Swede Jan Eliasson, said of the UPR just before the vote: “Such a mechanism would ensure equal treatment with respect to all Member States and would prevent double standards and selectivity.” The European Union was also enthusiastic, claiming the Council was a glorious “opportunity to build new trust by addressing human rights in a spirit of honesty, equal treatment and the avoidance of double standards.”
The assurances were untrue., under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council. The label is intended to evoke the equal treatment of all UN member states, notwithstanding the actual treatment of the UN’s favorite whipping boy.
From the start, Council members included states like China, Russia, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia. Less than half of current members are even free democracies, according to Freedom House. The Islamic bloc of states has continually held the balance of power by controlling the groups that have the majority of seats.
The Council soon adopted a short permanent agenda that governs every regular session. It contains one item for censuring Israel alone, and one general item for all other 192 UN countries combined. Thirty-five per cent of all the resolutions the Council has passed that are critical of specific states have been directed at Israel – compared to nothing on states like Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia.
The Council sponsored the poisonous Goldstone report (subsequently recanted by its lead author) which alleged Israel’s response to eight years of rocket fire from Gaza wasn’t legitimate self-defense, but an effort to deliberately target Palestinian civilians. The Council has chosen 9/11 conspiracy theorist and Boston marathon-bomber apologist, Richard Falk, to be the chief “expert” on Israel’s alleged human rights violations for the past six years.
One more institutional bias at the Council is the handiwork of European and other Western governments. UN members are organized, off-camera, into five regional groups where they share information, negotiate, and distribute important jobs and resources. At the Council these bodies meet regularly prior to public sessions – but the only one of 193 UN members not admitted to any of them is Israel.
This exclusion is an obvious violation of the UN Charter’s promise of equality for “all nations large and small.” Nevertheless, the geographically disparate “Western European and Others Group” (WEOG) refuses to admit Israel. The primary holdout at the moment is reported to be Turkey.
In short, UN Human Rights Council discrimination and double-standards against Israel are ubiquitous.
As a result, in March 2012 Israel decided to cease obligingly placing its own neck on the Council’s guillotine and legitimizing the wrongs. Unless there are significant developments in the next 48 hours, not engaging with the Council or the UN secretariat that services its operations, will mean Israel will not attend what will be its second UPR on October 29.
The Council has decided to go ahead with or without the presence of Israeli diplomats, but if Israel stays away, it will be the first time that any country has challenged the mechanism. Hence, Israel has been subjected to withering pressure from the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the UN to change its mind.
The strong-arm tactics are unconscionable.
As the UPR theory goes, once every four years the Council spends a few hours talking about the human rights record of each UN member state. The process has a number of stages. The country under consideration sends representatives to make some speeches about its terrific human rights situation. Other states are each given no more than two minutes to comment and make recommendations for improvement. The state concerned voices its acceptance or rejection of those recommendations. NGOs – including phony NGOs sponsored by governments – are allotted a limited time to make comments. And then the recommendations – and the government’s rejection of any of them – are put into a report which is perfunctorily “adopted.”
In practice, the UPR looks like this. A very large number of friends of each rights-abusing country line up to praise its human rights record and generate a long list of faux congratulatory recommendations which can be easily “accepted.” The favor is repaid when their pals’ turns come along. These states then announce that serious recommendations “do not enjoy their support.” The praise and the rejections, all get included in a report that contains no findings and no conclusions, and there are no decisions to take action.
The UPR has faced the acid test of dealing with a country committing crimes against humanity, namely, Syria. The spectacle of the Syrian UPR included Burma saying it “congratulates Syria for its successful efforts to create advanced health care for its people.” While Venezuela “wished to reiterate its unambiguous support to the significant efforts that President Assad is making to preserve his country’s stability when faced with the onset of greedy imperialism.” Following the UPR, the killing escalated.
By contrast, during the UPR of the United States in 2010, Iran told the U.S. to “combat violence against women.” Nicaragua told the U.S. to redress the wrongs “caused by capitalism.” North Korea told the U.S. to “prohibit and punish brutality by law enforcement officials.” And China complained that the U.S. limited “citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to free internet access.”
On October 21, 2013, Saudi Arabia sent two female representatives to its UPR who addressed the Council shrouded entirely in black but for the slits of their eyes. In that condition, one said: “I would like to underline that the system in Saudi Arabia doesn't make a distinction between men and women.” And the other defended the rape of children: “our country has prohibited marriage of any persons who have not reached the age of puberty.” As the 2012 State Department human rights report on Saudi Arabia points out, in practice "girls as young as be married."
It is little wonder, therefore, that the world’s worst human rights violators are delighted by the grotesque moral relativism of the UPR and repeatedly applaud its “universality.”
Even more lamentable is the backing that the procedure receives from the United States and Europe, who understand full well that the UPR is a veil standing between the emperor and his birthday suit.
All of them have adopted the party lie, summed up by the Arab Group last June. Israel’s threatened non-participation is upsetting because “non-selectivity and objectivity must be adopted as well as equal treatment among all countries.”
In reality, the UN’s human rights flagship is skippered by countries dedicated to the demonization and destruction of the Jewish state – the antithesis of equal treatment.
Israel is under no obligation to enable 192 countries to boast that Israel will be treated “equally” under the UPR, when it is treated unequally at every Council session before and after.
Israel does not owe the United States and Europe a green light to hang a “no Jewish state allowed” shingle outside of their UN meetings, let alone validate the suggestion that it is Israel threatening the integrity of this “human rights” process.
Reports suggest that Turkey, Ireland, Lichtenstein and Iceland are the only countries now standing in the way of some kind of deal by which Israel will attend the UPR and return to engagement with the Council. Such states eschew the foundational principle of equality in the UN Charter.
Because the truth is, that terminating support for the Council’s permanent agenda item on Israel, and Israel’s admission into the WEOG group in Geneva, are about addressing the credibility crisis facing the UN, not Israel.
Anne Bayefsky is director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust. Follow her @AnneBayefsky.
For more human rights and United Nations coverage see www.HumanRightsVoices.org.
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