The wrongs of a rights council

Last month, a joyous event, unprecedented in the history of the UN, took place in Geneva. Under what is known as the “Universal Periodic Review”, every UN member state has agreed to submit itself to a five-yearly inquisition by the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC). On January 29, it was Israel’s turn. The government of Israel did not refuse to undergo a review, nor did it formally ask for a postponement. It simply indicated that it intended to delay its participation. But even this small gesture caused an immediate fluttering in the diplomatic dovecotes.

Feverish efforts — notably by the USA — are now being made behind the scenes to persuade Israel to change its mind. If the Israeli government has an ounce of self respect it will rebuff these entreaties and tell the HRC exactly where to go with its UPR and what to do with it when it gets there.

Some frankly ludicrous arguments are being used to get Israel to change its mind. But before I deal with these I need to paint the wider picture within which Israel’s action needs to be set. The HRC was established in 2006 as the successor body to the Human Rights Commission, a spiteful and time-wasting conclave composed of representatives of 53 states, many with poor-to-appalling human rights records. The HRC consists of representatives of only 47 states but, as successor to the commission, it has demonstrated in ample measure that it is nothing more than a spiteful and time-wasting conclave of states, many of which boast poor-to-appalling human-rights records.

Current members include such beacons of humanity and loving-kindness as Saudi Arabia (public executions; oppression of women and gays); Kyrgyzstan (systematic state-sponsored oppression of the Uzbek minority); and the People’s Republic of China (suppression of freedom of expression; secret trials). That the duly appointed representatives of such regimes should be afforded the privilege of sitting in judgment on liberal democracies strikes me as perverse — even wicked.

It is nothing more than a spiteful conclave of states

More than that, however, the HRC has permitted itself to become the willing instrument of those intent on demonising the Jewish state, just as its predecessor was wont to do. In June 2006, the HRC bowed to a demand from the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and agreed that alleged human rights abuses by Israel should be a standing item on the agenda of every council meeting. Israel is the only state to have been singled out by the HRC in this way — a decision that was condemned even by secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who was moved to proclaim his disappointment “at the council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world”.

Unashamed, the HRC has relentlessly pursued Israel at every opportunity. This persecution culminated a year ago, when it published a report damning settlements as “war crimes” and demanding that the West Bank — and even parts of Jerusalem — be ethnically cleansed of their Jewish inhabitants. Evidence that had been presented to the HRC arguing for a contrary view, including a submission made by me, was ignored.

What is to be done? Is the council to be permitted to continue its campaign of hate against the rights of Jews and of the Jewish state, while ignoring or downplaying human rights abuses in Islamic societies? Or is it to be called to account?

The decision of Israel’s government to delay its participation in the UPR might therefore be regarded as a small but necessary step in the direction of calling the HRC to account. Some Western observers are arguing that, unless Israel is made to relent, the precedent set is sure to be exploited by acknowledged totalitarian thuggeries such as Zimbabwe and North Korea, where respect for human rights is unknown. In that case, why are North Korea and Zimbabwe not standing items on the council’s agenda.

Ideally, Israel should just walk away from the council and all its works. At the very least, it should make its participation in the council’s work dependent on a modicum of fair play and — I must add — an end to its scandalous exclusion from full membership of any of the UN’s regional groups.

Last updated: 2:00pm, February 15 2013