Last updated: 24 January, 2013

US urges Israel to take part in UN rights review

Israel should take part in a UN review of its human rights situation despite its decision to cut ties with the council that carries out the process, a high-level US diplomat said Thursday.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” said Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US representative to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Israel cut all ties with the 47-member state council last March after it announced it would probe how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

The Jewish state is not a member of the council but like all 193 UN countries it is required to undergo Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of its human rights situation.

Israel is scheduled for a UPR next Tuesday, but has given no indication it will take part in the process.

If Israel is not represented at the review, it will mark the first time since the reviews began in 2007 that the country under evaluation is absent, and it remains unclear how the rights council will react.

“The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed,” Donahoe said, responding to questions at a conference at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

She said the council and its president, Remigiusz Henczel of Poland, had been working around the clock to determine if the review should go ahead even if Israel doesn’t show up, and what kind of sanctions might be appropriate.

“Our very strong hope is that the outcome protects the two overriding values of universality … and the cooperative, collaborative nature of the process,” Donahoe said.

She would not provide details on what options were being discussed, but said: “I’m fairly optimistic that we will find a solution that does not undercut” these values.

The United States, which joined the UN rights council in 2009, has long criticised the body for showing bias towards Israel, which is the only country to have a specific council agenda item dedicated to it.

“We see (this) as a structural bias against Israel,” Donahoe said, stressing that the US was still working to have the agenda item changed.

However, “UPR is different… (It) is a tool that treats all countries equally and is universally applicable,” she said, insisting it would be in Israel’s interest to take part in the review.