Anti-Israel Bias at the UN Commission on Human Rights
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This report describes one aspect of UN sponsored anti-Israel agitation on the Question_of_Palestine, the activities the UN Commission on Human Rights. It is part of an article at http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1314451&ct=1766305
Anti-Israel Bias at the UN Commission on Human Rights
Analysis and Commentary from UN Watch in Geneva 4 January 2006 — Issue 138
The Struggle against Anti-Israel Bias at the UN Commission on Human Rights
The following article by UN Watch Executive Director Hillel C. Neuer was recently published by the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is based on the author’s Herbert Berman Memorial Series lecture at the Center
on June 16, 2005.
Beginning around 1967, the full weight of the UN was gradually but deliberately turned against the country it had conceived by General Assembly resolution a mere two decades earlier. The campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel at every opportunity and in every forum was initiated by the Arab states together with the former Soviet Union, and supported by what has become known as an "automatic majority" of Third World UN member states. The result today is that the UN's political organs, specialized agencies, and bureaucratic divisions have been subverted in the name of a relentless propaganda war against the Jewish state.
Paradoxically, one of the greatest violators of the UN Charter's equality guarantee has been the UN body charged with
establishing and enforcing international human rights, the Commission on Human Rights. This case study examines how this
UN Commission systematically singles out Israel for discriminatory treatment, as an instance of the UN's denial to
Israel of equality before the law. It also discusses the efforts of UN Watch, a human rights monitoring organization in
Geneva, Switzerland, to combat this bias and restore the UN to its original purposes.
Anti-Israel Bias in the UN System
None of this means Israel should be above the law. Every country, including every democracy, commits human rights violations, and states should be held to account accordingly, both domestically and internationally. Yet Israel does have the right to be treated equally under the law.2 It is legitimate for the UN to criticize Israel, but not when UN bodies do so unfairly, selectively, massively, sometimes exclusively, and always obsessively.
Likewise, it is good to call attention to the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, their difficult conditions, and their right to self-determination. But it is something else to elevate this claimant people far above any other of the thousands of aggrieved minority peoples around the world, for the sole reason that the Palestinians happen to have the Jewish people as their purported aggressor. The UN's advocacy for the Palestinians is more often than not a way of targeting Israel. For example, the organization is completely silent on the violations of Palestinian rights in Lebanon, where thousands are denied the most basic freedoms including the right to work.3 The facts demonstrate that where Israel cannot somehow be blamed, the UN shows no concern whatsoever for Palestinians.
The countless anti-Israel resolutions and related debates consume an astonishing proportion of the UN community's precious resources. In 2004-2005, during the 59th Session of the General Assembly, the time spent by ambassadors on enacting the nineteenth anti-Israel resolution of the year was time not spent on passing a single resolution on Sudan's genocide in Darfur. Diplomats at foreign ministries or UN missions have a limited amount of time to devote to any particular UN session. Because every proposed UN resolution is subjected to intensive review by various levels and branches of government, a direct result of the anti-Israel texts is a crippling of the UN's ability to tackle the world's ills.
UN bias against Israel is overt in bodies such as the General Assembly, which each year passes some nineteen resolutions against Israel and none against most other member states, including the world's most repressive regimes. The World Health Organization, meeting at its annual assembly in Geneva in 2005, passed but one resolution against a specific country: Israel was charged with violating Palestinian rights to health.4 Similarly, the International Labour Organization, at its annual 2005 conference in Geneva, carried only one major country-specific report on its annual agenda5 -- a lengthy document charging Israel with violating the rights of Palestinian workers.
In the summer of 2004, the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague issued an advisory opinion that followed the script of a political campaign orchestrated by the PLO representative at the UN, Nasser al-Kidwa. The busiest corridor of the Palais des Nations, the European headquarters of the UN in Geneva, displays no less than ten larger-than-life panels devoted to the Palestinian cause, with the clear message that the Palestinians are the world's greatest human rights victim, and the clear implication that Israel is the world's greatest human rights abuser.
There are three special UN entities dedicated to the Palestinian cause. The oldest is the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, created in 1968. In 1975, the General Assembly added the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Supporting its work is the Division for Palestinian Rights. Lodged within the UN Secretariat, the Division boasts a sixteen-member staff and a budget of millions, which it devotes to the constant promotion of anti-Israel propaganda throughout the world.
Although Secretary-General Kofi Annan has made important pronouncements against anti-Semitism, and even -- before a Jerusalem audience -- against some aspects of the UN's anti-Israel bias, his regular statements on the Arab-Israeli conflict are disproportionately critical of Israel. Close associates, such as senior aide Lakhdar Brahimi, publicly describe Israel as a country whose policy constitutes "the great poison in the region."
The anti-Israel apparatus within the UN, therefore, is of considerable magnitude. Here the focus will be on a small
part of this large canvas, the UN Commission on Human Rights. The story of the Commission's anti-Israel bias reflects
the situation in the UN as a whole.
The Commission on Human Rights as a Case Study
The Commission on Human Rights, comprised of a rotating membership of fifty-three member states, typically singles out Israel for discriminatory treatment in at least seven different ways:
1. The Commission's agenda devotes a special item to censuring Israel.
2. The Commission's debates disproportionately focus on condemning Israel.
3. The Commission's resolutions against Israel equal the combined total of country-specific resolutions adopted against all other countries in the world.
4. The Commission's independent experts subject Israel to irrational scrutiny and criticism.
5. The Commission bars Israel from participation in the regional group system, and thereby from membership in the Commission itself.
6. The Commission's emergency special sessions and special sittings are disproportionately dedicated to condemning Israel.
7. The Commission's NGO panel events single out Israel for special condemnation.
1. The Commission Devotes an Exclusive Agenda Item to Censuring Israel
The six-week session of the Commission proceeds according to an agenda approved annually by its fifty-three member states. There are twenty-one items on the agenda, treating matters such as self-determination, racism, civil and political rights, women's rights, and children's rights. Only two items expressly treat violations of human rights. Agenda Item 9 addresses human rights violations "in any part of the world," meaning violations occurring in all 191 UN member states. Agenda Item 8, meanwhile, is designed to treat human rights violations in one state alone -- Israel — and is entitled, "Question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine."
The establishment each year of a special agenda item to scrutinize Israel constitutes a blatant violation of Israel's right to be treated equally compared to every other state, as guaranteed under the UN Charter and reaffirmed at the recent 2005 World Summit.6
A few states, particularly the United States and Australia, have objected to the institutionalized, ab initio discrimination of Agenda Item 8, where Israel is denied equal treatment under the law before the proceedings even begin. During the past session in 2005, for example, Ambassador Rudy Boschwitz, head of the U.S. delegation, stated before the plenary:
Australia's ambassador Mike Smith stated:
Most UN member states, however, including the European and other democracies, have failed to speak out against this
form of prejudice by the Commission. (See below for a discussion of UN Watch's innovative 2004 address under Item 8.)
2. Commission Debates Focus on Condemning Israel
This is particularly so during the first week of debates, which sets the tone for the entire annual session. For
example, in the recent 2005 session, under the debate on self-determination (Agenda Item No. 5), the Palestinian claim
-- one that Israel has already recognized -- was invoked by some fifteen out of eighteen statements. In contrast, the
claims of the Tibetans, the Kurds, or the Basques, not to mention the hundreds of other peoples currently seeking
self-determination, were entirely ignored. The organized assault on Israel in one speech after another succeeds in
creating its intended effect on delegates gathered from around the world: imprinting the image of Israel as
3. Half of the Commission's Country-Specific Resolutions are against Israel
Additionally, the Commission adopted a Chairman's Decision to postpone, for the second consecutive year, consideration of a fifth anti-Israel resolution concerning alleged Lebanese detainees in Israel. This assures it a place on next year's agenda.10 The Lebanese, who at the time of the session were still controlled by Damascus, were told by Germany that most member states saw the resolution as frivolous since Israel had already released all the detainees.
An EU resolution on Sudan, submitted under the agenda item of "Human Rights Violations in Any Part of the World," was withdrawn for lack of support. Instead, it was adopted by the Commission in a diluted form under Agenda Item 19, "Technical Cooperation."
The language of Commission resolutions against Israel sometimes rises to the level of incitement. Most notoriously,
an annual text used to reference General Assembly Resolution 37/43 of 1982, which affirms "the legitimacy of the
struggle of peoples for… liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available
means, including armed struggle" (emphasis added).11 The final words were understood by all to condone
Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.12 Although this particular reference was omitted in 2005,
the language of the resolutions against Israel remained exceptionally harsh and inflammatory.
4. The Commission's Special Rapporteurs Single Out Israel for Special Condemnation
A considerable number of the experts have successfully exposed abuses around the world, achieving far more than the annual plenary session of the Commission, where repressive regimes, which dominate the membership, block most attempts at meaningful action. When it comes to Israel, however, too many of the experts have failed to act objectively, instead participating in the selective prosecution and a priori conviction of Israel. One of the most egregious perpetrators is John Dugard, special rapporteur on Palestine, whose most recent report, released in September 2005, dismisses Israel's withdrawal from Gaza as an artifice and fails to say a single word about Palestinian terrorism.
By now, though, such behavior is expected from the Commission's expert on Palestine, whose mandate is expressly tailored to examine Israeli violations only. Many of the Commission's other experts, however -- those with mandates bearing no particular connection to Israel or the Palestinian territories -- disproportionately single out Israel for censure.
On 4 August 2005, Israel was less than two weeks away from its scheduled disengagement from the Gaza Strip, a plan to withdraw soldiers and destroy the homes of ten thousand Israeli citizens. The move was seen by the world as both a consequential concession and an internally wrenching decision. However, on that day, eight independent experts saw fit to collectively issue a harsh denunciation of Israel.
The experts, it seems, were concerned that insufficient attention was being paid to the ICJ advisory opinion of 2004, and that Israel was continuing to construct its security barrier in the West Bank. Specifically, they objected to "negotiations conducted in terms of the Road Map" that, the experts alleged, paid short shrift to the court's opinion -- and criticized the UN itself for sponsoring the talks. This bizarre charge is elaborated in detail in Dugard's September report, and it is fair to presume that he played a key role in drafting the joint statement.
The recklessness of the timing aside, that Dugard would issue such a statement was not altogether surprising. Less clear, though, was why the seven others, each of whom is authorized by the Commission to treat a defined mandate, went along. These were:
Whatever her political views on the issues, there is no possible nexus between Ms. Huda's mandate on trafficking of women and Israel's construction of the West Bank security barrier.13 Whereas several of these rapporteurs have published criticisms of Israel, none has ever issued a single statement or report against Palestinian terrorism. Similarly, in June 2004, the annual assembly of independent experts, attended by some twenty-five rapporteurs, issued a joint statement that attacked only one country, Israel. There was not a word about the crimes against humanity in Darfur or anywhere else.
Apart from the joint statements, many of the annual reports to the Commission by thematic experts unfairly censure
Israel. The 2005 report of Yakin Erturk, expert on violence against women, effectively argued that when Palestinian men
beat their wives, it is Israel's fault. (For an even more egregious case, see below on Jean Ziegler, the expert on
5. The Commission Bars Israel from a Regional Group and from Membership on the Commission
Although Israel belongs in the Asian group, like its neighbors Jordan or Lebanon, opposition from Arab and Muslim states has barred Israel from joining. In 2000, the Western European and Other Group (WEOG), a cluster of democracies including West European countries, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, allowed Israel temporary and limited membership in New York. In Geneva, however, WEOG has refused to admit Israel. It is one thing, say European states, to allow Israel to join their grouping in New York, which is concerned with allocating positions to UN bodies, but quite another thing in Geneva, where regional groups engage in substantive consultations. When it comes to discussing issues such as human rights, say these states, Israel should be barred from joining WEOG because the Jewish state "is not like-minded."
The Europeans, including France and the United Kingdom, are insistent against Israel joining WEOG outside New York. Thus, when WEOG granted Israel limited admission in 2000, it made clear that for a long time Israel would be disentitled from competing for the most sought-after positions, such as a seat on the Security Council, but could compete for certain other places.14 In 2004, WEOG offered Israel one of its assigned seats on the Governing Council of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), meeting in Nairobi. The Israelis were pleased to gain entry to any UN position, and willingly accepted.
As the UNEP session began in Nairobi, the delegates, as usual, divided into their regional groups for discussions. The Israeli delegate, sent by WEOG, went to the WEOG delegates' room and took a seat. Soon, a European diplomat approached. "May I ask what you are doing here," he asked the Israeli delegate. Taken aback, the Israeli replied that he was representing his country, which was chosen by WEOG to sit on the Council, and hence he was in the WEOG room. "No," said the diplomat, "Israel was admitted to WEOG only in New York -- not in Geneva; not in Vienna; and not in Nairobi. Please leave." The delegate left.
Every country in the UN regional group system is part of a club that excludes its Jewish member. A few, like the United States, are openly seeking to end this bias. Those that are silent, however, abet this discrimination, just like members of a country club that prohibits blacks or other minorities.
Some are beginning to speak out on this issue. Addressing a Jerusalem audience in March 2005, Kofi Annan said, "I will do whatever I can to encourage corresponding groups [of WEOG] in Geneva and Vienna to follow suit. We need to correct a long-standing anomaly that kept Israel from participating fully and equally in the work of the [United Nations] Organization."15 The head of the UN Foundation, Senator Timothy E. Wirth, has also voiced his objection. "Reform must also embrace the full inclusion of Israel as a normal Member State," he said in recent testimony to Congress. "Israel, as the only Member State that is not a member of one of the regional groups, has no chance of being elected to serve on main organs such as the Security Council or the Economic and Social Council, and we must work to rectify this anomaly."16
Although the secretary-general committed himself to do "whatever he can," it is not clear what, if any, follow-up has
6. The Commission's Emergency Sessions Single Out Israel
7. The Commission's NGO Panels Single Out Israel for Condemnation
Conclusion: The Commission Denies Israel Due Process and Equality under the Law
Article Continued here: http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1314451&ct=1766305
2. Irwin Cotler, Canada's justice minister and attorney general, has been the foremost scholar articulating this point. See, e.g., "Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness," Jerusalem Post, 6 February 2004 (reprinting a paper published in November 2002 by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute). Available at http://www.freeman.org/m_online/mar04/cotler.htm .
3. Article 1 of the "Law Pertaining to the Entry Into, Residence In and Exit From Lebanon" (10 July 1962) defines Palestinian refugees, by default, as foreigners, despite the fact that many have been present in Lebanon for fifty years. As such, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon may not work unless he or she has received a work permit, valid for a maximum of two years. This requirement effectively rules out their prospects for employment, except within a few narrow spheres such as relief agencies. See Palestine Center Information Brief by W. Sadie, "The Status of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon," http://www.palestinecenter.org/cpap/pubs/20000524ib.html .
4. See WHA58.6 ("The Fifty-eighth World Health Assembly. . .calls upon Israel, the occupying power, to halt immediately all its practices, policies and plans which seriously affect the health conditions of civilians under occupation").
5. The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, report of the director-general to the International Labour Conference, 93rd Session, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2005.
6. "We reaffirm that one of the purposes and principles guiding the United Nations is to … develop friendly relations among nations based on the respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…." World Summit Outcome Document, 15 September 2005.
7 Explanation of vote delivered by Senator Rudy Boschwitz, head of the U.S. Delegation, 14 April 2005 (Item 8: Israeli Settlements - Draft Resolution L.2). Available at http://www.humanrights-usa.net/2005/0414Item8Israel.htm .
8. "Statement Delivered by Australia at the 61st Session of the Commission on Human Rights" (Item 8: Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine), 23 March 2005, http://www.dfat.gov.au/hr/comm_hr/chr61_item8.html
9. These four resolutions were passed under Agenda Item 9, which treats violations in specific countries. Although several resolutions under Item 19 mentioned other countries, these all came under the rubric of "Technical Cooperation," and are seen as lacking the censure of an Item 9 resolution.
10. Indeed, one of the most effective tools of the anti-Israel campaign is to build into the annual resolutions a range of self-perpetuating mechanisms, assuring a continuing stream of anti-Israel headlines. UN staff are required to produce dozens of annual reports targeting Israel for submission to UN bodies, assuring still further debates. Staff authors of such reports, though required by their job to prepare the documents, privately acknowledge their futility.
11 See, e.g., the 2004 Resolution E/CN.4/RES/2004/10.
12. In 2002, the following countries voted in favor of this resolution (Resolution 2002/8): Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, DM Congo, Ecuador, France, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zambia. Those abstaining were: Burundi, Cameroon, Croatia, Italy, Japan, Poland, and Uruguay. In 2003, the following countries voted in favor of this resolution (Resolution 2003/6): Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Bahrain, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, India, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Those abstaining were: Austria, Belgium, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Guatemala, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay. In 2004, those voting yes (on Resolution 2004/10) were: Armenia, Bahrain, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo, Uganda, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe. Those abstaining: Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Sweden.
13. See "UN Rights Experts Slammed," http://www.unwatch.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=bdKKISNqEmG&b=1316871&ct=1747967 .
14. Israel recently announced it would seek a Security Council seat, but because of the conditions of its entry must wait until at least 2018.
15. Kofi Annan, "Remarks at Dinner Hosted by H.E. Mr. Moshe Katsav, President of the State of Israel," 15 March 2005, http://www.un.org/apps/sg/sgstats.asp?nid=1350 .
16. Timothy E. Wirth, testimony before U.S. Congress, 19 May 2005.
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