UNA-UK is concerned at reports that Israel will not participate in a review of its human rights record to be conducted by the UN Human Rights Council tomorrow - 29 January 2013.
Now in its second cycle, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is perceived as a key element of the UN’s human rights machinery. Essentially a peer-review process, UPR is state-driven, enabling the state under review to provide its own report on how it has sought to improve its domestic human rights situation and to fulfil its international human rights obligations. This report is supplemented by information from relevant parts of the UN system (e.g. Special Rapporteurs) and from stakeholders such as NGOs. All this information is considered during a review session, in which other states can ask questions and make recommendations. The state under review can choose to accept or reject the recommendations.
UPR is the only mechanism by which the human rights records of all UN Member States are regularly scrutinised. Created in 2006 as a seminal feature of the Human Rights Council, UPR was seen as a means to combat the selectivity and politicisation of the Council's predecessor body by ensuring that each state is reviewed every four years. The first cycle of the UPR (2008-2012) saw 100% participation by all member states and was hailed as a UN success story.
100% participation under threat
Much of the legitimacy of the UPR process is derived from its universality. This will face a major test tomorrow with the possible non-participation of Israel in its second review. This follows on from Israel's decision in March 2012 to withdraw from cooperating with the Human Rights Council and related mechanisms. In October 2012, Israel declined to submit its national report, a requirement of the UPR process (the stakeholder reports can be found here).
Israel has long accused the UN’s human rights system of anti-Israel bias, pointing to the Council’s agenda item 7 “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”, the only country-specific standing item. Indeed, in previous years the Council has focussed heavily on Israel/Palestine via its special sessions.
UNA-UK's five-year assessment of the Council included a recommendation that this disproportionate focus, especially through the standing agenda item, be addressed as a matter of priority. Over the past two years, the Council has diversified its country focus. For example, between April 2011 and June 2012, there were four special sessions on the situation in Syria, as well as further reports from the Commission of Inquiry on Syria in regular sessions.
Israel has formally requested that its UPR be postponed, and a decision will be taken by the Council on this tomorrow. If the Council were to go ahead it would represent the first time a review has been conducted without the state in question present, setting a dangerous precedent for other states reluctant to engage with this process.
Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, the US representative to the Council, has urged the Israeli delegation to “come to the Council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation", adding that the impact of Israel’s absence would be detrimental to the UPR mechanism as a whole.
Israel was absent from its review at the Human Rights Council on 29 January 2013. In response, the Council President, Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, submitted a draft resolution to the Council which was subsequently adopted.
The resolution calls upon on Israel to resume cooperation with the mechanism, requests that the President report back to the Council on steps taken towards this end at either its 22nd or 23rd session and decides to reschedule the review by November 2013 at the latest.
The entire resolution can be viewed here.