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The United Nations Human Rights Council: Part I

Apr 8, 2016 | Israeli Politics

Click here to read the United Nations Human Rights Council: Part II.

The Obsession

The obsession of the United Nations Human Rights Council with Israel is plain. There is one agenda item for Israel, item seven, and one for the all other countries in the world, item four.

Item seven is titled “Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Arab-occupied territories,” which implies that all of Israel is, arguably, Arab-occupied territory. Item four is titled “Human rights situations which require the Council’s attention,” which implies that the human rights situation in Palestine and other Arab-occupied territories does not require the Council’s attention, but they are going to discuss it anyway.

The mandate of the special rapporteur on Israel is the only mandate, out of fourteen current country mandates, that is indefinite. The title of the mandate, “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” asserts conclusions against Israel, assuming that territories in dispute belong to Palestine and that these territories are occupied by Israel. The title moreover leaves open the position that there are other Palestinian territories occupied prior to 1967, that is to say, all of Israel.

The mandate-holders (John Dugard, from the inception of the Council to 2008, Richard Falk from 2008 to 2014, and Makarim Wibisono from 2014 to 2016) have had a personal history of bias against Israel. The current mandate-holder resigned in January 2016, creating a vacancy.

A Consultative Group short-listed as candidates to fill the vacancy two individuals (Penelope Green from the US and Michael Stanley Lynk from Canada) with histories of bias against Israel as pronounced as their predecessors’. They had for instance both signed on to a publicly posted anti‑Israel diatribe. One of these two, Michael Lynk, was chosen by the Council.

None of the other candidates to fill the 2016 vacancy (Ms. Phyllis Bennis and Ms. Christina Cerna from the US, Mr. Vinodh Gaichand from South Africa, Mr. Anohar John from India Mr. Hussein Kalout from Brazil, Ms. Magali Lafourcade from France, Mr. Michael Mansfield from the UK, and Mr. Saer Ammar, from Syria) had signed on to this diatribe. So, the Consultative Group short-listed obviously biased candidates for the job and only those candidates.

It is not as though all the other candidates are perfectly okay. Some have manifested bias in other ways. Others are unqualified for reasons other than bias. One candidate, Christina Cerna, was side-lined because she was neutral and did not have a history of hostility to Israel.

The previous mandate-holder resigned because Israel had not replied to his request for access to the territories to which he wanted to have access. The resignation, as far as the Consultative Group was concerned, was pointless. They made no effort to shortlist a candidate who Israel might potentially see as objective, to whom Israel might grant access.

At the March session in Geneva, there were five resolutions on Israel – on settlements, human rights in the occupied territories, self-determination, the Golan Heights and implementation of the reports on the 2008‑2009 and 2014 Gaza conflicts – and only one on any other country. That was one more resolution on Israel than in the previous March session. There were seven reports on Israel – the reports of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, of the Secretary General on settlements, of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on settlements, of the Secretary General on the implementation on the report of the 2007‑08 Gaza conflict, of the Secretary General on the implementation of the report of the 2014 Gaza conflict, of the Secretary General on human rights in the occupied territories, and of the Secretary General on the Golan – and only one report on any other country.

The attempts at implementation of the reports on the Gaza conflicts are striking because of their history. The Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict of 2008‑9, chaired by Richard Goldstone, produced a report that was a cut-and-paste job of false, and exaggerated and one‑sided submissions from anti‑Zionist and biased NGOs. Goldstone eventually realized he had been bamboozled and publicly rejected the Report.

The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza Conflict of 2014, created by Council resolution of July 23, 2014, had originally been chaired by William Schabas. Because his history of bias against Israel had been so pronounced and had become so public, he felt compelled, on February 2, 2015, to resign from this position but not before a substantial portion of the work on the report had been done. Mary McGowan Davis replaced him. The Report was released 24 June 2015.

One would have thought that these reports with these histories would have just been shelved. The UN nonetheless is promoting their implementation.

Most of the anti‑Israel resolutions and reports are carried over from one year to another. There have been seven United Nations Human Rights Council special sessions on Israel, out of twenty four, four special sessions on Syria and one only on all other countries.

The United States at the High Level segment of the Council session stated that the work of the Council:

“is undermined by its persistent bias against Israel. No other nation has a stand‑alone item on this Council’s agenda. So long as the Council persists in its efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, it will be profoundly limited in the good that it can accomplish.”

Israel made a similar statement. But they were alone.

The Cause

It is also plain why this obsession with Israel is happening. The Asian and African blocs form a majority of the Council – 13 each or, in total, 26 states out of a Council membership of 47. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states since the inception of the Council have constituted a majority or close to majority of each of these blocs (The Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states right now on the Council in the African bloc are Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria and Togo and in the Asian bloc are Bangladesh, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Maldives, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia.) The Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states defer to the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by Fatah, on all matters relating to Israel.

The effect of this structure is that a political faction, Fatah, as a practical reality, controls the Human Rights Council. The reason the UN Human Rights Council is obsessed with Israel is that Fatah is obsessed with Israel.

The Human Rights Council in 2006 had replaced the old Commission on Human Rights, whose creation was mandated by the Charter of the United Nations. The General Assembly resolution justified the change by reference to the need to eliminate the “double standards and politicization” of the Commission.

Objectively, the double standards and politicization to which the resolution referred were the persistent ganging-up on Israel at the Commission, while other, real human rights violators were ignored or only minimally considered. The resolution passed not out of overwhelming concern about the fixation on Israel but rather because every other country that was the target of criticism, no matter how faint and polite, and all its friends, considered that the phrase “double standards and politicization” applied to them.

With the Council, matters went from bad to worse. For the Commission, Israel was the world’s worst human rights violator. For the Council, at least at the beginning, Israel was the world’s only human rights violator. Eventually the Council reverted to looking something like the Commission, adding a few other countries to its attention, but with nothing near the venom or time of that focused on Israel.

At the time of the creation of the Council, there were active proponents for ending all country resolutions, rapporteurs and special sessions. That is, to some extent, what drives the Council’s focus on Israel. Council members understandably are more concerned about criticism directed against themselves than criticism directed against others. The worst human rights violators are those least likely to want the Council to address country human rights violations.

Right now every member of the Council that is also a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and many others besides, merits the attention of the Council far more than Israel, and some may well get it. For states targets of criticism the next best thing to no criticism is criticism that is ignored.

The trivialization of the Council through its obsessive fixation on Israel means that anyone who takes human rights seriously cannot take the Council seriously. For violators, that is not a regrettable result; it is an objective. If they cannot prevent criticism against themselves, they will do their best to make it look ridiculous through ridiculous criticism of Israel.

The Council has a vehicle for consideration of country human rights violations, something the Commission did not have, a Universal Periodic Review. As the name indicates, the review is both universal, that is to say considering every country, and periodic, every four years. This review treats all countries equally. Yet, the fact that, at one procedure of the Council, Israel is treated equally does not change the fact that it is treated unequally elsewhere.

The General Assembly resolution creating the Council mandated a review of the working methods five years after its creation. That five-year review, in 2011, came and went without any change in the anti‑Israel focus of the Council.

The General Assembly Council review resolution of July 2011 agreed to look at the Council again in ten years. In theory, this belated, 2021 general oversight would allow the Council in the interim on its own to change its working methods. However, there nothing is afoot. There is no organized effort amongst states for change.

The notion that the Council will end its anti‑Israel focus before 2021, in 2021, or ever, is something akin to the notion that antisemitism will end. Antisemitism is the world’s oldest and most virulent hatred. If it can survive the Holocaust, it can survive anything. Antisemitism will last as long as humanity. All we can hope for is mitigation and containment.

Anti‑Zionism is the multilateral counterpart of antisemitism. With the advent of the Jewish state, Israel has become the Jew amongst nations. Anti‑Zionism will be a persistent feature of the United Nations as long as the United Nations itself exists.

In early years, many said that ending the Palestinian / Israeli conflict would bring peace to the Middle East. The civil wars of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and Syria, all of which have nothing to do with the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, put paid to that notion. Yet, the fixation on Israel continues.

The official Iranian position, stated by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1981, and reiterated in other forms by subsequent Iranian leaders, is this:

“Muslims should use faith-dependent machine guns and the power of Islam and keep away from political games which reek of compromise … Muslim nations, especially the Palestinian and Lebanese nations, should punish those who waste time indulging in political manoeuvers.”

In other words, they don’t care whether there is a peace agreement between Palestinians and Israel. They would still reject the existence of the State of Israel.

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