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Israel shuns U.N. review of rights record

Jan. 30, 2013 at 2:30 AM   |   Comments

GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Israel became the first country to boycott a required U.N. review of countries' human-rights practices, citing what it called the body's strong bias against it.

Israel's vow not to cooperate with the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, followed its cutting of all ties with the 47-member council in last March after the body announced it would probe how Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem might infringe on Palestinian rights.

"That was the last straw after we had to endure systematic abuse and marginalization for years," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Washington Post. "They have held more meetings and taken more decisions on Israel than on all the other countries put together. Israel, and only Israel, is a permanent agenda item."

The United States, Canada and the European Union have accused the council of focusing disproportionately on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More than half the council's resolutions since it started work in 2006 have focused on Israel's treatment of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied and Israeli-controlled areas, The New York Times said.

Washington boycotted the council during the George W. Bush administration but reversed its position during the Obama administration.

Israel is not a member of the council but like all 193 U.N. countries is required to undergo what is known as a Universal Periodic Review of its human-rights record every four years.

"I see that the delegation of Israel is not in the room," council President Remigiusz Henczel of Poland told delegates at the U.N. offices in Geneva Tuesday.

Every country except one has attended the meetings and all have participated in the required reviews, including nations accused of extensive human-rights abuses, such as Syria and North Korea.

Haiti did not appear before the council in 2010, citing a magnitude-7 earthquake that hit the country and killed an estimated 316,000 people that year, the Post said.

The Obama administration had urged Israeli delegates to go to the meeting "and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human-rights situation," U.S. Ambassador to the council Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters last week.

"The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed," she said.

The council -- which said in a statement it "regretted" Israel's decision to boycott the session -- decided Henczel would try to persuade Israel to resume cooperation with the review. He is to report on his efforts in March. The council's report on Israeli settlements is to be debated March 18.

The council intends to reschedule Israel's human-rights review by November, the council said in a statement.

Henczel said the postponement served "as a precedent to be applied in all similar circumstances of non-cooperation in the future."

But he warned that if Israel failed to participate by the set deadline, the council would weigh steps against it.

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