Although Israel cut its ties with the Human Rights Council in May 2012, there is one UN human rights mechanism it should make every effort to be part of, even if it means sending a driver to the meeting.
That mechanism is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) — a review that takes place every four years and to which all countries are subjected. Israel is the only state to have refused to turn up to a review session and it remains to be seen whether it will make the same decision again next week, on October 29.
UN staff and delegates of countries allied with Israel are working hard to encourage it to attend. The need to put someone — anyone — Israel’s seat is imperative, not just for Israel to be reviewed but also for the legitimacy and credibility of the UPR.
The human rights reviews are conducted by states and involve reports from the country under examination, information from NGOs, questions from other states, and recommendations on strengthening and improving human rights. The exercise encourages transparency and scrutiny of human rights across the world. Everyone participates, from Sweden to Somalia, from Turkey to Tuvalu. Everyone, that is, apart from Israel.
Israel’s decision to cut ties with the UNHRC was taken as a result of the council’s excessive attention on and disproportionate scrutiny of Israel. There is no doubt that the council has been biased, selective and politicised in its treatment of Israel.
But Israel’s stance has weakened further its position within the UN.
Many countries adopt an anti-Israel position. But many more do not care about Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is those disinterested countries that are the ones Israel ought to focus upon. Engaging with the UNHRC does mean participating in sessions in which Israel is excessively criticised and scrutinised. But it also allows Israel to put forward its position. By not engaging, the only voices heard are those of the “other side”.
Disengagement from the council is one thing. Failing to attend the UPR is something far worse. Any country that undermines that mechanism will face significant criticism.
Autocratic regimes attend — even North Korea has sent delegates. So for countries disinterested in the Israel-Palestine situation, it is ludicrous that a democratic state should refuse to participate. The result would be another diplomatic disaster for Israel.
Dr Rosa Freedman is a law lecturer at the University of Birmingham