On Oct. 29, in a United Nations chamber in Geneva, a well-orchestrated farce played out. Unsurprisingly, the western media gave it scant attention.
As is customary for the UN, Israel was the focus. This time, the 47 member nations of the UN Human Rights Council gathered to express brazen hypocrisy masquerading as earnest politics.
Established in 2006, the UNHRC is intended to monitor human rights issues and follows a protocol of conducting country-specific reviews every five years to assess compliance with global standards. The only country in the world to be singled out by this august body for special scrutiny, set out as a standing agenda item for every single meeting, is Israel.
Since its inception, of the 19 “special sessions” convened by the UNHRC, six have focused on Israel. Only when Israel is the subject of such an inquiry is the phrase “grave situation” used. Fratricide in Syria, apparently, is less urgent. Not a single special session has been convened regarding North Korea. Never mind Russia, Saudi Arabia, China.
In the UN, no country on the planet can be a more heinous violator of human rights than Israel.
Leading the charge against Israel in Geneva were the beacons of international human rights.
Waffa Bassem, Egypt’s UN Ambassador, condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, demanded the release of all political prisoners and free movement for Palestinian refugees.
Wow. This, from a country that condones detention without charges; which just replaced an elected Islamist government by military putsch; that flooded Gaza smuggling tunnels and has choked off the passage of goods or people to and from the territory, with impunity and without exception.
Israel allows building, medical, food and other supplies to pass into Gaza. Construction materials allowed into Gaza have been diverted to the building of tunnels burrowing from the Strip into Israel. Hamas makes no effort to conceal their purpose: to facilitate the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and execute terrorist raids against civilians. Ho hum.
Iran’s representative refused, in the chamber of a United Nations conference, to utter the name “Israel,” instead calling it “the regime.” This, from a country that tortures and murders, en masse, peaceful protesters demanding basic civil rights.
Qatar. A filthy rich emirate that has been criticized, gently, for using foreign workers as slaves. In the last few years, according to the Guardian newspaper, hundreds of migrant labourers went home in coffins, worked to death in broiling heat, for paltry wages, in deplorable conditions. They die servicing a $100-billion building spree so that Qatar can put on a big show for the 2022 World Cup it will host.
Joining in the pile-on were Turkey. Venezuela. Cuba. Is it really necessary to elaborate?
Why have all the activists — women’s, LGBT, NGOs — gone silent?
The UN is supposed to mean something; it is supposed to set the bar for decency and integrity.
But, UN operations are predicated on a regional group system, where each member state belongs to a group intended to ensure equitable geographical representation. Only through group participation can a state engage, fully, in the UN’s major juridical institutions, tribunals and inter-state consultations.
Israel’s group — Asia — is dominated by Arab and Muslim members which block its inclusion.
“This hobbled and undignified position in which … Israel uniquely finds itself is without doubt morally shocking; but it is also manifestly unlawful and constitutes a breach of both the letter and the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations … Israel’s continuing exclusion from the regional group system is both unlawful and strikes at the roots of the principles on which the United Nations exists.”
So declared Sir Robert Jennings, eminent Cambridge law professor and judge of the International Court of Justice, in a legal opinion in 1999.
Not only do his recommendations, reflecting outrage, remain unrectified, but the UNCHR report on Israel was reviewed and finalized last Friday by the Maldives, where a 15-year-old rape victim was sentenced to 100 lashes by a court for “fornication;” and Sierra Leone and Venezuela, hardly renowned for their human rights record.
Talk about a world gone topsy-turvy.
*Vivian Bercovici is a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Her column appears monthly.