(CNSNews.com) – A diplomat chairing a U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Monday shut down a non-governmental organization speaker just moments into his statement, as he was listing the names of countries which took part in a debate condemning Israel, despite their own widely-criticized human rights records.
U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer had spoken for around 20 seconds before the presiding officer silenced him and moved on to the next speaker on the schedule. He said by phone later that he could not recall a similar incident in 15 years of accredited monitoring of the U.N.
Neuer had begun by saying, “I would like to list the names of some of the governments that spoke today in this session, because I believe that says it all: Venezuela. Saudi Arabia. Cuba. Egypt– ”
Some diplomats began banging on their desks and Cuba called for a point of order. The HRC vice president, Nazhat Shameem Khan of Fiji, gave the Cuban delegate the floor and he said that, as the discussion was on an agenda item dealing with the Palestinian issue, “this is not the time to tackle situations in other countries, whatever they may be.”
The Palestinian representative urged the chair to take “a very clear position” and not allow an NGO speaker to “divert the discussion.”
Khan then called on all NGO representatives to “refer to the specific situation or theme which is being dealt with in this discussion.”
“And on that note,” she added, “I have decided to move to the next speaker.”
A representative of the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination then began to accuse Israel of “the crime of apartheid,” as Neuer picked up this papers and moved away.
Singling out Israel
The incident occurred on the day when the HRC was holding its regular (three times a year) debate on its “agenda item seven” – the only permanent agenda item targeting a particular country.
Israel, alone out of 193 U.N. member-states, is a focus of a standing HRC agenda item, a fact that was cited by the Trump administration in its decision to withdraw from the council last June.
Critics have called the regular debate an “Israel-bashing” session, and Neuer said he wanted to draw attention to the nature of the governments leading the fray.
Apart from those he had managed to name before being silenced, others that took part included Lebanon, Iran, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, Turkey, Russia, China, Libya, Qatar, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Bahrain and Algeria.
Neuer said even if the countries he was naming did not like what he was doing, listing them had been “rather benign” compared to some of the statements he and others have made at the HRC.
The chair’s decision to silence him “seemed entirely without any basis on her part.”
Neuer challenged the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye to “speak out for freedom of speech with the U.N. itself.”
He also wondered why none of the democracies in the room had spoken out. Most Western democracies in recent years have chosen not to participate in agenda item seven debates – as did the U.S. before its departure – but Sweden, Luxembourg and Slovenia did take part on Monday
Queries about Monday’s incident sent to Kaye, a professor of law at the University of California’s Irvine School of Law, brought no response by press time. Queries were also sent to the missions of Sweden, Luxembourg and Slovenia.
Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, said on Twitter Neuer had been “speaking truth, yet the Council chose censorship & denial over truth.”
Months before the U.S. exited the HRC, Vice President Mike Pence reminded the U.N. Security Council that no country apart from Israel has to “endure” being singled out at every HRC session.
“As evidence, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions condemning Israel, while largely ignoring the world’s worst human rights abusers,” he said.
At a U.N. Watch-organized rally in Geneva Monday drawing attention to the disproportionate focus on Israel, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said the persistent singling out of Israel “speaks to the fundamental flaws of the Human Rights Council.”
“Among those deciding whether Israel has violated human rights will be representatives from absolute monarchies, one-party states, and military dictatorships,” Grenell said. “I think it speaks to the sincerity of the Human Rights Council that its agenda is determined by those who respect its mandate the least.”
Of the council’s 47 members in 2019, 14 (just under 30 percent) are graded “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, which scores countries each year for political rights and civil liberties.
They are among the countries Neuer called out on Monday – or would have called out, had he been allowed to finish his statement.