In keeping with a decision made in 2013 to display their opposition to the disproportionate singling out of Israel, neither the United States nor most European members took part in the debate. Israel also stayed away.
That left the floor open for around 30 mostly Arab, Islamic and autocratic governments to criticize Israel in response to six reports presented to the council by U.N. officials. They included Algeria, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Venezuela and Yemen. (Five European countries – Ireland, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Sweden and Malta – did take part.)
By the time the current HRC session ends on Friday, the council will have passed four resolutions targeting Israel for its policies in the disputed territories, including the “occupied Syrian Golan.”
Out of 193 U.N. member states, Israel is the only country that is subjected to a permanent item on the HRC agenda. Whatever crises may be occurring anywhere else in the world, Israel is targeted at every regular council session – three times a year – each time “agenda item seven” comes around.
The Obama administration, which in 2009 reversed its predecessor’s decision and joined the HRC, has consistently criticized the Israel-focused agenda item. But when the opportunity arose several years ago to reform the agenda, U.S. attempts to have item seven removed were unsuccessful.
During Monday’s debate a number of representatives complained about the “boycott,” with Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab states, saying that attempts to eliminate item seven merely encourage Israel to violate international law with impunity.
Lebanon and Egypt both accused those who shunned the debate of practicing double standards, with the Egyptian delegate charging that no single people in the world had suffered as much as the Palestinians.
Syrian ambassador Hussam Edin Aala accused Israel of having a “terrible” record of human rights violations.
“It is regrettable that some countries are so hypocritical that they call on the council to cease condemnation of Israeli practices instead of calling on the occupying forces to cease their crimes and their violations,” said the representative of the Assad regime.
Algeria’s Saadi Ahmed said Israel’s security blockade of the Gaza Strip amounted to “genocide against innocent people.”
‘Ignoring gross human rights violations’
“Today is Hate Israel Day at the U.N., a feature of every regular session, held in September, March and June, of the 47-nation Human Rights Council,” U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization, said in a statement.
It noted that the HRC session ending on Friday will have considered no reports, and will have voted on no resolutions, relating to the human rights records of China, Cuba, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela – all of whom are themselves members of the council.
During a portion of Monday’s meeting set aside for NGO comments, U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer noted that one of the reports under consideration dealt with implementation of a 2009 document.
He said some might wonder why the council was “devoting precious time to events of six years ago while ignoring gross human rights violations being perpetrated now, by most of the countries who just took the floor, including Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”
In a statement issued separate from the proceedings, U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper said the U.S. decision not to participate in the discussion “underscores our position that Item 7 lacks legitimacy.”
“The United States strongly and unequivocally opposes the very existence of Agenda Item 7 and any HRC resolutions that come from it,” he said. “No other nation has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it.”
Harper said when the relevant resolutions come up later this week the U.S. will call for a recorded vote, and vote no.
In 2012-13, Israel stopped cooperating with the HRC for 17 months, after claiming years of grossly unfair treatment for years. At that point, of all the resolutions ever passed by the council condemning a specific country, more than one-third had applied to Israel alone.
As part of its boycott, Israel became the first country to refuse to take part in the “universal periodic review” (UPR), an exercise every U.N. member-state is expected to undergo once every four years.
The move worried the U.S. and other countries which view the UPR as one of the most important HRC mechanisms, concerned that Israel’s stayaway could be cited as a precedent by other countries wanting to avoid scrutiny in future.
Israel relented and resumed cooperation in October 2013, but in return for a pledge by Western countries not to take part in HRC debates under item seven.
A second condition laid down by Israel was its inclusion in a regional group. Until then, it was the only country that did not belong to one of the five regional groups in Geneva. In late 2013 it was eventually granted membership of the “Western European and Others” group, which includes such non-European democracies as the U.S., Canada and Australia.