Israel boycotts its U.N. human rights review

January 29, 2013

Israel on Tuesday became the first country to boycott a periodic review of its practices by the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing what it called the body’s strong bias against it.

Israeli representatives did not attend the session of the 47-member council in Geneva, and the review was postponed to no later than November. All U.N. member states are required to submit to a council review every four years, and nearly all have attended, including nations accused of extensive human rights abuses, such as Syria and North Korea.

Haiti did not appear before the council in 2010, citing the earthquake that hit the country that year.

Council spokesman Rolando Gomez told the Associated Press that Israel’s absence from the mandatory Universal Periodic Review put the council “in new territory.” The United States had urged Israel to participate.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the move was in line with a decision taken in March to suspend Israel’s participation in the work of the council after the body decided to form a fact-finding mission to examine the effect of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the human rights of Palestinians.

“That was the last straw after we had to endure systematic abuse and marginalization for years,” Palmor said. “They have held more meetings and taken more decisions on Israel than on all the other countries put together. Israel, and only Israel, is a permanent agenda item.”

Israel has a history of strained relations with the U.N. council. It refused to cooperate with a fact-finding mission created by the council in 2009 to investigate human rights violations related to Israel’s three-week war in Gaza against the Islamist group Hamas in 2008-2009. The commission, led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that both sides had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, drawing harsh criticism in Israel.

After the council appointed Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University, as a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, Israel in 2008 barred his entry, preventing him from gathering information for a report. Israeli officials cited Falk’s harsh criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, saying his views disqualified him from playing the role of an impartial investigator.

A joint statement by eight Israeli human rights groups warned Tuesday that the Israeli boycott of the council review could “create a precedent for human rights violators to evade criticism.”

“It is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions,” the groups said.

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