The Universal Periodic Review, human rights, and Israel: What’s at stake

By the end of 2011, all UN member states’ human rights records had been examined under the Universal Periodic Review process. © Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission

By Peter Splinter, Amnesty International’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva

If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

The Universal Periodic Review, a process to examine states’ human rights records, has until now been truly universal: all United Nation member states were reviewed by the end of 2011 and the second cycle of reviews has already started.

But now the government of Israel is not engaging with the process. Every indication is that the Israel will not be present this afternoon when it is scheduled to be examined under the Universal Periodic Review. As the only recalcitrant state among 193, Israel’s deliberate absence would sabotage the principle of universality. Consequently the Universal Periodic Review stands to lose the compelling legitimacy it derives from being applied even-handedly to all states. Why should states that would prefer to escape scrutiny of their human rights record, or are severely resource constrained, submit to this process if Israel’s non-compliance demonstrates that it is no longer universal?

Not so long ago, Israel, and many other states and organizations, had expressed concerns that the Commission on Human Rights was biased and operated on double standards. It was abolished and in 2006 the Human Rights Council was established. With it came a great improvement: the Universal Periodic Review. Finally, a process applied consistently to all states was at hand, and in its first cycle of reviews, it worked. It is ironic that Israel is now undermining a mechanism that was designed to remedy the bias Israel protested against.

The Israeli government complained that the Human Rights Council singled Israel out for criticism by establishing a Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in March 2012, and consequently withdrew its cooperation with the Council. Israel had already refused to cooperate with several important mechanisms such as the Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict in 2009. Yet those steps are unrelated to the Universal Periodic Review.

Amnesty International voices the worldwide consensus in urging Israel to participate in its Universal Periodic Review during 2013, in accordance with the rules of the Human Rights Council. Anything less than Israeli engagement at senior level will weaken the effectiveness of the mechanism. Even Israel’s best friends will be hard put to defend such actions. According to the Human Rights Council protocol, appropriate measures will be taken in relation to states that persistently refuse to co-operate with the Universal Periodic Review.

There is evidence that for many countries throughout the world the Universal Periodic Review has contributed to narrowing the gap between human rights standards and their implementation. It would be a great loss to the global human rights project if the Universal Periodic Review were jeopardized.

If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?

Read more:

Suggested recommendations to States considered in the 15th round of the Universal Periodic Review, 21 January – 1 February 2013 (UPR recommendations, 19 November 2012)

Posted in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories, Middle East And North Africa, UN | Tagged , , | 28 Comments

  1. youssef mouzahem says:

    Who has the power does not care about human rights and such issues, so far there is no global consensus against the Israeli actions against Palestinians.

  2. Bruce says:

    The Human Rights Council is obsessed with slamming Israel, and has done so more than all other countries in the world. No wonder Israel wants no part of such a persistently biased process that ignores the true human rights abusers of the world, such as Syria, China, etc.

    • Eugene says:

      Even if the Human Rights Council was obsessed with Israel, saying “Israel isn’t as bad as the others” is no excuse. However it’s just not true that Syria/China/Iran/SaudiArabia/Hamas/etc are ignored by human rights groups. For example check out the UN Human Rights Council website which details their Syria special session.

      What I think does happen to some extent is that there’s relatively more talk about Israel for three reasons. Firstly, because whether there are human rights violations by the Israeli govt is controversial, hence people want to debate & discuss them. Other potential human rights violations are so obvious that people see less of a need to talk about them. Secondly, because Israel is a “Western” “one-of-us” country, activists feel more hope of influencing Israel’s policies. Thirdly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is linked in with the whole jihadi terrorism problem, so many Western countries & their media are particularly interested in it.

      • Hatfield says:

        It’s not that “Israe isn’t as bad as other countries,” it’s that the Human Rights Council is uniquely obsessed with Israel and only Israel. Only Israel is a permanent agenda item. Every country has human rights problems, the U.S., Canada, Japan, etc. But some, like Syria, Libya, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, China, North Korea etc., are horrific, barbaric to a degree it is hard to imagine and yet, the Human Rights Council is really just interested in Israel. I am very happy they are not participating in this charade. I am also not surprised that Amnesty, an organization already stained by anti-Semitism, is also against Israel.

        • Gary says:

          “Anti-semitism” – the ultimate hollow rhetoric to be played when once has nothing of substance to say.

          • john says:

            the truth is always the truth, Judaism is what separates the Israel to the rest of the world, that’s what they get bit up by the UN, OIC HRW etc. As much us you may want to deny it the truth is always the truth….

  3. Jean-Claude says:

    to Bruce:
    Syria and China underwent their UPR. The human rights situation in both countries was commented upon (up to) 192 countries.

    Why on earth Israel should have special treatment? Every State worldwide accepted to be reviewed. Is Israel different from all countries of the world?

    Well, actually, since today, it is definetely.

    • Moi Moi says:

      I agree why should Israel be accorded different treatment and not even be allowed to be voted on to be on the Council when Kaddafi’s Libya was? When China and Iran can be voted on and sit on the Council? Until then, Israel should have a right to protest against such unequal treatment.

    • Jeffington says:

      You mean the UPR that used strong, combative terminology for Israel yet expressed that Syria “continue” it’s good work? The UPR is merely a platform for repressive regimes to praise each other and it’s typical of Amnesty’s position on Israel that they’re expecting Israel to play ball in such an unfair court.

  4. Eugene O'Neill says:

    Amnesty and the UN and the politically correct liberals should cop on that there are a lot more countries that have serious problems, quite a lot of them in the middle east, say Syria, Iran, Egypt. Israel is the only country in the region that HAS human rights!

    • Eugene says:

      That’s true, but that’s no excuse for Israel not wanting to answer questions. But Amnesty doesn’t just campaign about Israel – for example they spend a lot of effort on Sudan, e.g. http://livewire.amnesty.org/2013/01/30/stop-the-planes/

      • Frank says:

        Amnesty does campaign mostly against Israel. Everything else pales by comparison. Most of its activists are anti-Israel, and most of the donations are anti-Israel. Even if they come from the Jews. Most “human rights” organisations do it the same way. Human rights activists are left and so have an inherent inhibition against mounting large and successful campaigns against authoriarian regimes. In contrast, the free Israel is free game, particularly as human rights organisations there do not have to fear for their lives.

        • Gary says:

          That is complete delusion. Amnesty is an international organisation, with sections spread across the world. Take a mere few minutes to browse the latest media releases from the organisation, and count how many pertain to Israel. Browse the organisation’s current list of online actions and campaigns, and count how many pertain to Israel.

          Above: a clear example of a persecution complex. At least readers will know not to take any of your subsequent statements seriously.

  5. Will Thomas says:

    Have any of the pro-Israeli government and military ever visited East Jerusalem and the West Bank? Have they seen, as I have, the attacks of Jewish settlers on women and children? Have they been denied access to their farming lands because of an apartheid wall? Have they seen the burning and cutting down of Palestinian olive trees and the poisoning of animals and wells belonging to Palestinians? Do they know of Israel’s violation of the Geneva Conventions, of ignoring the World Court decision regarding the illegality of the monstrous walls encircling Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities? Do they not know of UN Resolution 242 which calls for the withdrawal of all military occupation forces from land taken during the Six-Day War? As a human rights activist, I know that the government of Israel is a racist state. Try reading Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s new book about racism in Israeli textbooks or read her brother Miko Peled’s book: “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” or even Israeli professor Ilan Pappe’s work,
    “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” It’s all there for anyone to see and to become better informed about both the history and the “facts on the ground.”

    • Richard L says:

      I read a lot of articles on Israel and the Middle East, and one big thing seems to be left out all of the time.

      Israel exists under conditions that no other state or nation in the world has to endure or can even imagine enduring. What other country is surrounded on all sides (except for their coastline) by inhospitable foes who would welcome their demise and who publicly and/or privately work to those ends or allow entities who work to those ends safe haven? Egypt has only had reasonable relations with Israel since the US paid them to do so when Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin signed the Camp David Accord. How many Middle East nations teach their children to hate Israelis and Jews? Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc. How about the Palestinian charter? It’s very easy to throw stones at the ONLY STABLE DEMOCRACY in the region. But the question asked by some here, is why do you continue to throw stones, when others are clearly more destructive and in greater violation of human rights.

      Now, Israel also has to contend with their own citizens who occupy areas that they refuse to leave. How much force do you expect Israel to use on those people, those “citizens” who live in a country already surrounded by enemies? There is no easy answer, no politically and socially simple solution–when I say politically and socially, I mean inside Israel itself.

      I don’t condone any violations occurring anywhere in the world. However, it is widely understood and accepted that many nations, China, many African states, and Central Asian countries, are far worse. And yet Mr. Splinter now tries to remove responsibility from those parties and somehow place it on Israel.

      Shame on you, sir.

    • Moi Moi says:

      I have. And I also have seen the civilians who were victims of the Palestinian suicide bombers, before the barrier was constructed. Since construction – not so many Palestinian suicide bombers.

  6. Jossef Perl says:

    Mr. Splinter Amnesty International’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, asks the rhetorical question at the end of this article: “If Israel fails to fully engage in its examination under the Universal Periodic Review during 2013 as required, will the victims of human rights violations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, thank the Israeli government?” This question perfectly illustrates why Israel was forced not to coopperate with the review by UNHRC. The UNHRC has been more critical of human rights violation by Israel than by either Afganistan or Zimbabwe. Anyone who cares about the facts knows how absurd this is. Unlike Mr. Splinter assertion that “If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody,” it is the absurd anti-Israel bias by the UNHRC that will ruin its human right review process.

  7. Ben Lee says:

    Good piece, Peter. One aspect that I’m interested in following is – as you’ve indicated – the res. 5/1 para. 38 provision that ‘after exhausting all efforts to encourage a State to cooperate with the universal periodic review mechanism, the Council will address, as appropriate, cases of persistent non-cooperation with the mechanism.’ I remember the efforts during the institution-building process to secure this provision.

    Should Israel ‘persist’ in its ‘non-cooperation’, the Council must respond: a scenario made more difficult by Israel’s continuing suspension of its relationship with the Council. The integrity and longevity of the UPR is riding on an appropriate and effective response by the Council’s President and its members.

    • Moi Moi says:

      What is UNHCR going to do? Vote through another resolution condemning Israel?

    • Tagore says:

      I think you’re getting to the heart of it Ben. The weakness/strength of the UPR is that it is a peer review process. While this can lead to some misleading contributions it does allow for the discussion and ‘mainstreaming’ of human rights ideas, which is one of the key objectives of the Council.

      As you say the problem comes when states do not cooperate. The initial reaction would be to try and have some kind of repercussions for not cooperating, however if the HRC starts to get involved in this then they risk going down the same route as the Commission they replaced.

      My personal view would be that it is not the place of the UPR to place sanctions, it is instead a mechanism for dialogue and ‘soft’ reinforcement of human rights. They still have the Office of the High Commissioner, the Special Raporteur and the Committee to provide oversight with possible sanctions. Unfortunately the Council doesn’t seem to have anticipated any non-cooperation issues, as their only response to Israel seems to have been to reschedule and hope they turn up next time (at the 17th session I think?). It may be more productive for the Council to use this as an opportunity to reaffirm the UPR as a constructive mechanism for dialogue and invite Israel to participate in some other way if it is not possible to hold a full review.

      Future non-cooperation of states would have to lead to the HRC rethinking its mandate with the UPR process and either downgrading it to a non-mandatory discussion chamber, or treating it as a treaty body reporting system and invoking some kind of sanctions (I think this would only serve to alienate though).

  8. Anat says:

    The Palestinians are the worst human rights abusers, on the same level as Iran. One can not find the exact information but from the little that is known in the West, there are far more abuses of Palestinians by Palestinians. It is a real shame that the world turns a blind eye and believe the propaganda disseminated by the Palestinians against Israel to cover up for their atrocities.
    Since the Western world pays large sums of money to the Palestinian economy, their human rights abuses should be exposed.

  9. John Bourke says:

    When the UN comes down as heavy on all the countries run by fanatical despots as it does on Israel then I will be prepared to give them some credit until then…….

  10. John Paul Jones says:

    So Mr Peter Splinter, Amnesty International’s Representative to the United Nations in Geneva

    ” the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody.

    The Universal Periodic Review, a process to examine states’ human rights records, has until now been truly universal: all United Nation member states were reviewed by the end of 2011 and the second cycle of reviews has already started.
    But now the government of Israel is not engaging with the process. Every indication is that the Israel will not be present this afternoon when it is scheduled to be examined under the Universal Periodic Review. As the only recalcitrant state among 193, Israel’s deliberate absence would sabotage the principle of universality. Consequently the Universal Periodic Review stands to lose the compelling legitimacy it derives from being applied even-handedly to all states. Why should states that would prefer to escape scrutiny of their human rights record, or are severely resource constrained, submit to this process if Israel’s non-compliance demonstrates that it is no longer universal”?

    This Human Rights process is thoroughly corrupt as Amnesty well knows. It is corrupted by the participation on the ‘Jury’ of regimes that practice systematic violation of Human Rights. There is no criteria with regard who may participate in this system of evaluation. It is a farce as Amnesty itself declared when this process result in Gadhafi’s regime being praised for its human rights record.

    Israel’s withdrawal should be followed by all the gutless countries and NGO’s that participate in this farce.

  11. Asher Pat says:

    And of course, it is much safer to yell “Netanyahu murders children” in the center of Tel Aviv rather than to ask whether chopping fingers to criminals is human in Tehran.

  12. Steve Bronfman says:

    There seems to be some confusion on the part of the apologists for Amnesty and the UN in the comments here. Many seem to defend the UN by proving that Amnesty isn’t biased as if Amnesty somehow runs the UNHRC. It may or may not be true that Amnesty is fair towards Israel but I’m not sure what this has to do with the UNHRC which is undeniably institutionally biased against Israel and “As of 2010, Israel had been condemned in 32 resolutions by the Council since its creation in 2006. The 32 resolutions comprised 48.1% of all country-specific resolutions passed by the Council”

  13. Rachamim Ben Ami says:

    Amnesty International is pathetic. Israel will ruin the world, do you not know how to sing a different tune? The UNHRC was created specifically in 2006 to replace an entity that even the Secretary General labeled “Anti-Semitic.” With that in mind one would imagine that the UNHRC would take great pains not to repeat the horrendous mistakes of its predecessor. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case at all.

    In its first year of existence the UNHRC focused ONLY on Israel. In a year in which Sudan was committing racial genocide in Darfur, China was killing Buddhist Monks in Tibet, the Philippines was committing Extra-Judicial Execution after Execution only Israel was subject to nation-specific Resolutions condemning it. After then Secretary General Kofi Annan specifically deplored this bias directly to the UNHRC did it take the hint and change its biased hate campaign? In 2007 it merely issued a single nation-specific Resolution against Mynamar (Burma), all the rest were against Israel. Kofi Annan’s replacement, current Secretary General Ban Ki Moon then followed in Annan’s footsteps and issued a stern rebuke to the UNHRC. Certainly THAT would make the agency stop unfairly targetting Israel…but it didn’t.

    As of today, 57% of all natio-specific Resolutions condemn Israel. Israel is the ONLY one of the UN’s 193 member states listed as a Permanent Agenda Item for the UNHRC. No matter one’s opinion about Israel only an imbecile would suggest that Israel is the world’s worst Human Rights offender. Only the Special Rappoteur for Israel serves on a permanent mandate. How dare Amnesty International co-operate with such a racist and hateful agenda. Have you no shame? Indeed, even Amnesty International has directly criticised UNHRC for ignoring Darfur to concentrate ALL energy on Israel. Then Amnesty International dares to criticise Israel for saying “enough” and bowing out of this biased charade? Shame on Amnesty International and all who fund this hypocritical mouthpiece for hatred.

  14. Rachamim Ben Ami says:

    Will Thomas: You speak of “Settlers,” in 1920 the United Nations’ predecessor, the League of Nations, earmarked 118,000 square kilometers for what it specifically stated would be a Jewish Homeland. This territory, the Mandate for Palestine, was entrusted to Britain who as the Trustee was to merely facilitate the establishment of the envisioned Jewish Homeland. Arabs, who at that point already had 4 sovereign nations, were in turn earmarked 2 seperate Mandates, Mesopotamia and Syria (including what later became Lebanon).

    After just 8 months as Trustee, Britain lopped off 93,000 square kilometers from the Jewish Homeland, giving a full 76% of the total area assigned to the Jews to a family from al Hejaz, the Hashemites. To make matters worse, Britain, which had also been made Trustee for the Mandate for Mesopotamia then consigned that entire Mandate to this very same family. As they severed 76% of the Mandate for Palestine the British Ethnically Cleansed it of all Jews and then forbade any Jew from stepping east of the Jordan River.

    Months later Britain severed another 18,000 square kilometers in the Negev Region but the League of Nations failed to co-operate. Still, everything that remained, all land west of the Jordan River, was earmarked for the Jews. Building momentum upon a campaign of terrorism that had begun in 1920 the local Arabs (they would not call themselves “Palestinians” until 1964) demanded that they be given all the land and the Jews be given none of it.

    Some Jews, like my own family, had never left the land. In our hometown of Hebron we had stubbornly held on for many centuries. In 1929 the Arabs of Hebron massacarred 64 Jews including my grandfather and my uncle. Thrown into a mass grave (later desecrated by Arabs) the British then Ethnically Cleansed the city. It was not until 1967 that Jews could return permanently but by then the narrative had changed and people such as yourself labeled us “Settlers.” Fact of the matter is, we are the indigenous people of that land and Arabs exist there only by virtue of a violent invasion that occupied every scrap of land from Western Iran to Morocco. Yet you label a Jew in Hebron a “Settler.”

    Despite the League of Nations earmarking that land for Jews, the British multiplied their crimes by initiating a process in 1936 that led to the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Desperate to control their own destiny Israel agreed to share what remained west of the Jordan River with local Arabs. The Arabs however refused. They wanted all the land. Fast forward to the Spring of 2008. The Palestinian Authority and Israel participated in a Trilateral process with America. It resulted in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreeing, on August 28th, 2008 to allow Israel to retain its 4 largest “Settlement” blocs along with virtually all of East Jerusalem. The land retained in the so called “West Bank” equaled 7.03% of the “West Bank’s” total area. In a Land Swap with a 1:1 ratio Israel would then cede an equal amount of land from within the Greenline.

    When the Palestinian Authority unilaterally trashed the Peace Process in 2010 all that remained was for the Palestinian Authority to accept a specific tract of Israeli land. Israel last offered land contigious to Gaza. For obvious reasons the Palestinian Authority found this unacceptable. Instead of offering a wishlist, as had been requested of them, the Palestinian Authority walked out and thus ended the Peace Process. Of course, had the Palestinian Authority actually signed on the dotted line it would have been its death knell. After indefinitely delaying elections in 2009 the Palestinian Authority was (and still is) ruling without a legal mandate. Signing off on the Land Swap would force the Palestinian Authority to hold elections at which point they would lose power.

    So, your belief about “Settlements” is entirely incorrect. The Palestinian Authority’s claim that Israel must stop all “Settlement Activity” is a bit of nonsense meant to prolong the Palestinian Authority’s illegal grip on power.

  15. Sky says:

    Angst makes a bad adviser. Israel mirrors the german lust for foreign land from the third reich. Israel acts like a dictator with no difference to Milosevic s Yugoslavia/Serbia. Israel plays the naughty little punk. The attacks on Syria look like an answer. Israel needs no UN but a therapist.

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