BBC article on Israel & UN HRC omits important context

On January 29th an article appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on the subject of Israel’s refusal to participate in the UN Human Rights Council’s universal periodic review. 

UNHRC article 29 1

Despite the long-standing evidence of endemic bias against Israel on the part of the UN HRC and its predecessor, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“Israel has boycotted a regular review by the UN Human Rights Council, the first time any country has done so.

The move was expected as Israel has long been angered by what it claims is unfair criticism from the body.”

Established in March 2006 to replace the discredited UN Commission of Human Rights, the UN HRC swiftly proved itself to be no better than the body which preceded it. By April 2007 the council had passed nine resolutions condemning Israel – the only country which it specifically condemned. By 2010, the UN HRC has passed 32 resolutions against Israel, with those resolutions forming 48.1% of all the country-specific resolutions. By the end of 2012, the number of resolutions passed by the UN HRC against Israel had risen to 44, with Syria, for example, being the subject of eight resolutions in the same period of time. 

Israel is the only country for which the UN HRC saw fit to establish a permanent and special agenda item, with another of the council’s ten permanent agenda items reserved for all the 192 other countries together. The council’s Special Rapporteur on the Disputed Palestinian Territories – currently Richard Falk – is the only expert mandate with no date of expiry and its brief covers only Israel’s human rights record. Israel is the only country excluded from membership in the UN regional groups, which means – as explained here – that it cannot take part in some UN activity.

“Israel’s is the only UN permanent mission in Geneva denied membership in any of the world body’s five regional groups, a vital element for meaningful participation in UN bodies. Consequently, when the Commission’s fifty-three states, along with the one hundred or so other states that participate as observers, meet in their regional groups to share information on upcoming resolutions or other developments, Israel is the only country left out. Moreover, Israel’s exclusion from full membership in a regional group has effectively prevented it from membership on the Commission. Regimes such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Sudan are regularly re-elected.

Although Israel belongs in the Asian group, like its neighbors Jordan or Lebanon, opposition from Arab and Muslim states has barred Israel from joining.”

Bizarrely, despite all those well-known facts, the BBC apparently still considers it accurate to write that Israel “claims” to be subject to unfair criticism.

The article goes on to quote the BBC correspondent in Geneva, Imogen Foulkes:

“Israel’s action has prompted concern that it might undermine the UN’s human rights work, says the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva.

Human rights experts fear other countries facing awkward questions might follow suit.

Even Israel’s biggest ally, the United States, had urged Israel to take part. The big question now is what – if anything – the UN can do about Israel’s refusal to participate, our correspondent adds.” 

Foulkes fails to make clear to the BBC audience the true nature of these universal periodic reviews when discussing real human rights abusing states. In March 2012 for example:

“A U.N. report ridiculed worldwide for lavishing praise on the Qaddafi regime’s human rights record was unanimously adopted today by the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, with president Laura Dupuy Lasserre overruling the objection made in the plenary by UN Watch.”

And in October 2011 (this link is worth reading in full):

“…the Syrian vice-minister of foreign affairs and his entourage took their places in the Council chamber.  And then the Cubans said: “the Syrian government is working for the human rights of its people.”  The North Koreans said: “we commend Syria on its efforts taken to maintain security and stability.” The Iranians said: “we appreciate the efforts of the government of Syria to promote and protect human rights.”  Ditto Sudan, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Algeria, Lebanon, China, Zimbabwe, Burma/Myanmar, and so on.  

Four days later, on behalf of the three countries charged with compiling recommendations, Mexico reported to the Council:  “Syria received a total of 179 recommendations…It is a pleasure to inform you that 98 recommendations were accepted and 26 shall be considered.” Among the recommendations that “did not enjoy the support” of Syria were “immediately end attacks on peaceful protesters and bring violators to account,” “put an end to secret detentions” and “allow journalists to freely exercise their profession.” At the end of this stage of the UPR, the President of the Council turned to Syria and signed off with “I thank both you and your delegation for your participation in the UPR.”

At the time, there were 2,600 dead Syrian citizens at the hands of their own government. And Assad got the message about the human rights bona fides of the UN.

The next and final stage of the UPR took place in Geneva on March 15, 2012 – by which time there were 11,000 dead.  On that occasion, the Council formally adopted the so-called “outcome” of the UPR – a report containing no findings and no decision to take action.  It was gaveled through without comment from the President with these words:  “May I now propose that the Council adopts the decision on the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review of Syria?”  I see no objection.”

There are now over 60,000 dead in Syria.”

The BBC article goes on to state that:

“A joint statement by eight Israeli human rights groups said: “It is legitimate for Israel to express criticism of the work of the council and its recommendations, but Israel should do so through engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, as it has done in previous sessions.” “

It does not, however, bother to inform readers which NGOs made that statement or what their political motivations for doing so might be. 

“After the session, eight human rights groups called on Israel to participate in the UPR process, including Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights and Yesh Din.”

This information is particularly significant due to the fact that:

“The official UN document entitled “summary of stakeholder submissions,” which is intended to drive Israel’s UPR, includes allegations from NGOs that object to “the Jewish character of the state,” and demand that “five million Palestinians” should “return” to Israel to seal the deal. “

Beyond its ‘Israel on the naughty step’ tone, does this BBC article contribute to its audience’s understanding of the reasons behind Israel’s decision not to attend the UPR or the deeply problematic nature of the UN HRC specifically with regard to Israel, as well as in general? 

Not in the least. And with the UN HRC’s controversial – and tediously predictable – report on Israeli settlements  released on January 31st (more on that later), that failure to inform accurately becomes even more significant. 


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