On Tuesday, delegations from across the UN member states convened in Geneva for Israel’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Only 48 hours before the hearing was due to commence, it was still uncertain whether or not Israel would even attend, having boycotted the Human Rights Council in March of last year after the council created an investigatory mission to report on West Bank settlement activity, and having failed to appear at previously scheduled reviews in January.
However, many member states were not prepared to let Israel opt out of the UPR proceedings, and diplomatic pressure mounted. The German Foreign Minister sent a personal letter to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other nations warned Israel of the repercussions of not attending.
The UPR is part of the Human Rights Council’s system for periodically assessing the status of human rights in all of the UN’s 193 member states. Each country under review, a process that occurs for each member state every few years, is given the opportunity to declare what actions have been made to improve the country’s human rights record, while other states can pose questions, voice their concerns and offer recommendations.
The UPR is considered a cornerstone of the international human rights regime.
If Israel had refused to attend, it would have been the first country to boycott the review, setting a possible precedent for other countries to follow suit.
But Israel did attend, and its delegation opened the UPR by commenting on the unfair treatment of Israel at the HRC, which is the stated reason for Israel’s suspension of relations with the council, reminding member states of the discrimination faced by the Jews throughout their history and Israel’s unique security situation.
Many of the member states gave recommendations regarding the rights of Palestinians, the continuation of settlement activity and the overall situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. However others chose to focus on the issue of the detention of minors and administrative detention without necessarily mentioning the larger picture, or the systemic violation of rights as a result of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. The blockade of Gaza was also mentioned a handful of times.
Algeria, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay made recommendations regarding natural resources. Other states, such as Australia, chose to commend Israel for improvements; thankfully states such as Ireland counterbalanced the praise with more apt recommendations.
During the proceedings Iran referred to Israel as a “regime” instead of a “state”, causing an interjection from Israel.