Double Standards

01.29.13

Israel Unilaterally Withdraws From U.N. Rights Review

There can be little doubt that with all the human rights violations out there in the world, the U.N.'s Human Rights Council has a disproportionate focus on Israel. This is not, of course, to say that Israel does not commit any human rights violations, and that such violations should not be pursued by the Council, but rather that the constant focus on the Jewish State—and it is very constant—raises questions of proportionality. But some of the functions of the Human Rights Council don't suffer from these troubling flaws; some of its functions aren't plagued by disproportionate ire directed at a single country. One such function is the Universal Periodic Review, and the universality is right there in the name. But this is precisely the function of the Rights Council that Israel declined to participate in today, offering no reason and asking for an extension (which was granted).

We often hear of a double standard against Israel, but this was not the case with the Universal Periodic Review. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the process is, in this case, actually a double standard in Israel's favor: it is the first country, since the review was implemented in 2005, to fail to show up and not offer a reason (Haiti was once a no-show, but offered an excuse). So Israel refused to participate in perhaps the one part of the Rights Council that, according to its own procedures, can actually not be anti-Israel.

Here's Mark Leon Goldberg's explanation at U.N. Dispatch of how the Review works:

It requires that all member states undergo a review of their human rights records every four years, no matter what. The Universal Periodic Review does not result in any resolutions condemning or praising a country, but it does oblige countries to face international scrutiny of their internal human rights situations. This forces countries to respond to specific criticisms, putting governments on the record in regards to alleged human rights abuses. The review also offers recommendations on how a country may improve its human rights record.

Why is this so important? Precisely because there are human rights violations in Israel that do need to be addressed, and the non-biased environs of the Universal Periodic Review seem the perfect place to do that. The Universal Periodic Review's mechanisms not only prevent this bias, but, as Goldberg argued, also hold the potential for improvements at the margins: the Review "can be a tool to effectively press certain governments to live up to international human rights standards," he wrote. "And, if those governments (read, Iran) chose to reject these recommendations, they will find themselves isolated even further." But instead Israel is isolating itself.

Goldberg's also written that the U.S. should not fear the Universal Periodic Review. Neither should Israel. One hopes Israeli cooperation is forthcoming when the Council returns to the deferred review in October of November.