The UN is openly flaunting its priorities and, sadly, human rights are far from a major concern for the international organisation. Since its creation post-World War Two, and having established itself as the platform which determines what constitutes a human rights violation and which countries can be considered as perpetrators, several trends have emerged within the UN which reduces the seriousness of people being deprived of their legitimate rights.
This has been achieved by creating ample space for reports on human rights violations to be disseminated, while refusing to insist upon accountability and justice. Ironically, the increasing awareness regarding human rights violations is actually creating widespread impunity, as the UN promotes itself as a platform for reporting about violations while intentionally failing to take action.
Last month, for example, a UN report said that Israel “may have” committed war crimes against Palestinians participating in the Great March of Return demonstrations; it was publicised heavily, despite a predictable outcome. Israel will not be held accountable and those celebrating the UN’s recognition of Israel having possibly committed war crimes will not be vindicated by a thorough follow-up and prosecution. Another wave of silence will descend until the UN issues another report that reaches the same conclusion. We will never see an international court having the opportunity to test the evidence from both sides to judge whether “may have” is to become “has”, and appropriate action is to be taken.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet has delayed the publication of a report exposing companies and institutions that do business with Israeli settlements due to “factual complexity”. According to Bachelet, “Further consideration is necessary to fully respond to the [human rights] council’s request.”
In response to Bachelet’s decision, PLO Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi noted, “The issue of corporate responsibility to respect human rights is neither a novelty nor an anomaly in the rules-based international system.”
Publishing the UN blacklist of companies had already been delayed by Bachelet’s predecessor in 2017. Israel has lobbied extensively for the report to remain unpublished, fearing the repercussions if firms listed in the report were to be targeted by boycotts.
The Times of Israel described the report as “highly controversial”, yet neither Israel nor its apologists deem colonialism and its nefarious activities to be controversial, which is the least that can be said about the shocking level of violence unleashed by the Israelis on Palestine and the Palestinians. The truth is that there is nothing at all “controversial” about publishing a report detailing how companies and colonialism thrive upon human rights violations, unless you have something to hide.
What is controversial, though, is Bachelet’s decision to delay publication. The former President of Chile is no stranger to controversy when it comes to her country’s human rights record, despite her own suffering at the hands of the Pinochet dictatorship. The application of the anti-terror laws to the indigenous Mapuche communities was most widespread during her two terms of office. As UN High Commissioner, she also failed to voice any substantive statement over the murder of Mapuche youth Camilo Catrillanca, killed on his own land by a special force known as the Comando Jungla.
Israel might find it has an ally at the UN in Bachelet, who is clearly no novice when it comes to the targeting of indigenous populations. Her expression of “regret” at Israel’s dismissal of the UN report documenting Israel’s use of violence at the Great March of Return protests is meaningless.
When it comes to human rights violations, rhetoric stands alone, especially when it comes to premeditated violence. There is no other institution like the UN that can create a spectacle out of violence and human rights rhetoric which fuels international attention, knowing full well that any reactions — any expressions of “regret” — will be temporary and have no effect.
The blacklist is another matter altogether. Bachelet is contributing to the impunity desired by Israel in order to retain its economic benefits from the occupation of Palestine. Settlements and human rights violations are an acceptable rhetorical subject, whereas settlements and the profits for the state therefrom as collaborators in violations are a red line for Israel and the UN. By delaying publication of this report, Bachelet is sending a clear message to the Palestinians: Israel and its business links are to be protected at all costs, even if that means sacrificing more of the indigenous Palestinian population.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.