By DAVID MATAS Going to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva means wandering into an alternative universe. Everywhere else, people are concerned about a wide variety of human rights issues. In Geneva, at the UN Human Rights Council, the concern is primarily Israel.
When the Council began in 2006 the focus was only Israel, to the exclusion of every other country. Now there are other countries which attract the attention of the Council. But by any measure – whether it be the number of resolutions, special sessions or studies, or extremes of language – Israel leads the attention of the Council hands down. Israel is the only country with a special rapporteur whose mandate is indefinite and the only country with a dedicated agenda item. The Council in its March 2015 session, which ended Friday March 27th, passed four resolutions on Israel and four resolutions on the human rights situation in the rest of the world – in Iran, North Korean, Myanmar (Burma) and Syria.
For this odd result, the blame lies in large part with the structure of the Council. The Council, which was established by the UN General Assembly, consists of only 47 states, with regional blocs. The Asian and African blocs are 13 states each. Their combination, 26 states, forms a majority of the Council. Though there is a one third turnover in membership every year, a constant has been that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has formed a majority of the combined Asian and African blocs.
Moreover, the OIC, on all matters relating to Israel, defers to the Palestinian Authority. The UN Human Rights Council is, in effect, controlled by a non-state entity whose primary focus is demonizing Israel.
A handful of democratic states have nothing to do with the anti-Zionism of the automatic majority. Most democratic states though have become fellow travellers in the corruption of the UN Human Rights Council. Why is this happening?
I was part of a B’nai Brith International delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva the week of March 8th to 13th. Our delegation consisted of 24 different people from 9 countries who met with representatives of 39 states. Everywhere our message to those democratic states who went along with the anti-Israel distortion of the Council was the same: do not contribute to the piling up on Israel. The diplomats in response gave a wide variety of justifications for the behaviour of their governments.
We heard that states speak on the agenda item dedicated to Israel because they need to respect the Council agenda. Yet, an agenda item provides an opportunity to speak, not an obligation to speak.
We heard that the Palestinians in Geneva present their agenda as an alternative to violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, the only way to stop a bully is to stand up to him.
We heard that the Security Council does not address adequately the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet, forum shopping should be discouraged.
We heard that Israel has not been engaged with existing UN mechanisms investigating claims of human rights violations by Israel. Yet, there is good reason for Israeli non-engagement, bias in the mandates of the mechanisms.
We heard that Israel has a much stronger military than the Palestinian Authority and the UN Human Rights Council can help to redress the imbalance. Yet, if one considers the Middle East region or the planet, it is Israel that is the underdog.
We heard that the excessive focus on Israel is not as bad as before. Yet, doing less of something wrong is not the same as stopping wrongful activity.
We heard that the obsession with Israel is the result of the structure of Human Rights Council and that all the democratic states can do is negotiate damage limitation in exchange for support for the negotiated result. Yet, support of democratic states for repugnant resolutions, reports, sessions and mandates is too high a price to pay for making all these devices marginally less awful.
Theodor Herzl argued in his pioneering 1896 pamphlet “The Jewish State” that the advent of the Jewish state “would put an end to antisemitism.” But, just the opposite has happened. The Jewish state has come to be treated like the Jewish people. Israel has become the Jew amongst nations – outcast, defamed and demonized. Nowhere is this more evident than at the UN Human Rights Council.
David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada. He is senior honorary counsel to B’nai Brith Canada.