The Geneva-based HRC has long been criticized for the amount of time and effort it expends on Israel in general – it was a key reason given by the Bush administration for shunning the council after it was set up in 2006 – but the trend is most glaringly evident each session when its agenda comes around to “item seven.”
Out of 10 permanent items on the HRC agenda, item seven – “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” – is the only one that is country-specific. Out of 193 countries that are U.N. members, Israel alone is targeted for its own agenda item, and this takes place every HRC session, irrespective of crises that may be occurring anywhere else in the world.
Eight of the other nine agenda items are thematic, ranging from “organizational and procedural matters” to “technical assistance and capacity-building.”
The remaining one, item four, deals with “human rights situations that require the council’s attention.” This potentially covers the situation in any U.N. member state, although criticism of Israel – again – frequently features during item four debates as well, while human rights violations in some parts of the world have never been aired.
The Obama administration, which upon joining the HRC in 2009 said its participation would enable it to improve the body from within, has pushed for the abolition of item seven, but without success.
Last year the council went through an extensive five-year review process, and one of the key issues the U.S. brought up was item seven. But a majority resisted any change, so the agenda item remains in place.
During Monday’s day-long debate, U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe called again for the HRC to eliminate the permanent agenda item.
“As we have said in the past, the Human Rights Council must treat all countries by the same standards,” she said. “This standing agenda item is yet another reminder of the unfair treatment that one U.N. member state receives in this council.”
“The effectiveness and legitimacy of this council can never be complete as long as one country is unfairly and uniquely singled out for its own agenda item,” she continued.
The HRC considered four resolutions on Monday – two on “human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” one on the “report of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” and one on “human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, also asked the HRC to establish an international fact-finding inquiry into the impact of Israeli settlements in areas claimed by the Palestinians.
The HRC has previously mandated fact-finding missions into the 2009 Gaza conflict – it accused Israel of war crimes during its offensive against Hamas – and into the Israeli commando raid on a Turkish ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists to Gaza in May 2010.
During the discussion on the “occupied Syrian Golan,” the representative of the Assad regime accused Israel of committing “serious human rights violations” against the inhabitants of the Golan Heights. (The strategic ridge has been under Israeli control since 1967 and was formally annexed in 1981.)
Israel’s envoy, meanwhile urged the HRC to “get back to the real work it is here to do – work for the people of Syria and Iran and in other places where people’s lives actually depend on the international community taking action.”
In her comments, Donahoe cited the resolution on the “occupied Syrian Golan,” which she said was being “motivated by the Syrian regime at a time when it is murdering its own citizens.”
Of the 37 countries whose delegates spoke during Monday’s debate, 25 were members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of Muslim states almost uniformly hostile towards Israel. Among the rest were other countries strongly supportive of the Palestinian cause, including Cuba, China, Russia, South Africa, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
The HRC will vote on the Israel-related resolutions before its session ends on Friday.