In a move that is sure to further endear the UN to the State of Israel, the recently created UN Human Rights Council voted last Monday to establish one permanent agenda item: the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.”
Needless to say, the abject hypocrisy of this move did not escape the notice of the Jewish press. From the Jerusalem Post:
In other words, Israel (or “Palestine,” in the council’s terminology), alone among the nations of the world, will be subjected to continual and open-ended examination. That’s in keeping with the record of the council’s first year: Eleven resolutions were directed at the Jewish state. None criticized any other government. Genocide in Sudan, child slavery and religious persecution in China, mass repression in Zimbabwe and Burma, state-sponsored murder in Syria and Russia – and, for that matter, suicide bombings by Arab terrorist movements – will not receive systematic attention from the world body charged with monitoring human rights. That is reserved only for Israel, a democratic country that has been guilty of human rights violations but also has been under sustained assault from terrorists and governments openly committed to its extinction.
Even Mitchell Plitnick, in his decidedly left-learning Jewish peace blog, The Third Way, noted the double standard:
Of course, Israel’s list of human rights violations is long; this is inevitable when conducting a military occupation and is, among the many reasons for that occupation to end, by far the most important. But criticizing Israel’s human rights violations can only be just in the context of establishing and trying to enforce global human rights norms. Pretending that Israel’s human rights violations are somehow different and worse than many other countries’ is simply absurd and wrong.
Read the annual global reports from Amnesty International. No country gets a clean bill of health, and most countries have a pretty sad list of human rights violations. Many can certainly say pretty clearly that their record is better than Israel, although most of those are not engaged in an ongoing conflict. Many others can make no such claim. And many such violations by other countries are, like Israel’s, a major cause of regional de-stabilization. There is simply no justification for Israel receiving such singular treatment.
Re the response of the human rights community: I was disappointed to read this tepid reaction from Peggy Hicks of Human Rights Watch:
Critics have denounced the inclusion of a separate agenda item on Israel. The council should not single out one country in this way. However, the item refers to the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories,” meaning that in principle, at least, the council can scrutinize both Israeli and Palestinian behavior.
For its part, Amnesty International weighed in on the issue earlier this month:
The Council must consider situations of human rights violations in an impartial and non-selective manner. Specific situations, including the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and other occupied Arab territories, should be addressed consistently with the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.
It’s also worth noting that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has also publicly criticized the council’s recent action:
The Secretary-General is disappointed at the council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item given the range and scope of allegations of human rights violations throughout the world.
What to make of all this? The UN Human Rights Council’s obsessive Israel-focus is only the latest in a long and ongoing saga. While I personally understand the Jewish community’s widespread cynicism about the United Nations, I’m often frustrated that most of this criticism tends to descend into wholesale dismissal of the UN itself.
At the end of the day, for all its shortcomings, the UN remains the only institution that exists to bring together the diverse nations of the world to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to work together for a more just world. While it is certainly unrealistic to ignore its weaknesses, those of us who are committed to international human rights must help the UN to build on its strengths and utilize its limited resources as effectively as possible.
Specifically, this latest development only further points up the need for fundamental UN human rights reform. For an intelligent and balanced discussion of this issue, I recommend this report from UN Watch.