Paris - Geneva, 31 January 2013: on the 29 January 2013, the fissure became a fault line when the State of Israel took non cooperation with the Human Rights Council to an extreme by refusing to submit its universal periodic review.
Since it was created in 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Council had proved its worth, despite there being room for improvement. However, as soon as states become judge and jury, politics are never far behind when it comes to adopting positions on human rights. Indeed, in the Council, the human rights situation in a given state is not assessed by experts but by other states. The same applies to the UPR, which nonetheless enables a periodic check to be conducted on all UN member states as regards respect for human rights.
The UPR mechanism was launched on 7 April 2008 amid great confusion as to the steps to be followed. Doru Costea, President of the Human Rights Council at the time, had explained that it was impossible to predict everything in advance and that it would take a year or two for this new review to ‘find its feet’. Today, at a juncture where that procedure has acquired a certain legitimacy, the Human Rights Council is faced with a new situation which is liable to set a dangerous precedent.
The State of Israel formally announced in a letter of May 2012 the ‘suspension of its cooperation with the High Commission for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms’. Hence, Israel did not submit a national report, which was expected to be published in October 2012 with a view to consideration at the 15th session of the UPR in January 2013, and did not appear before its peer states for the review on 29 January 2013.
In the absence of the state concerned, the Council issued, on that date, Decision A/HRC/OM/7/L.1 in which it created a precedent which ‘will apply to all similar situations in the future’. In that decision, the Council deplores Israel’s failure to cooperate, but the Council members were in disagreement as to whether or not this constituted ‘persistent non cooperation’ within the meaning of Article 38 of Resolution 5/1. They therefore asked the Council Presidency ‘to take all appropriate steps and measures, in accordance with his mandate, to urge the State under Review to resume its cooperation with the Universal Periodic Review mechanism’.
The President was also requested to report on the results of his efforts at the 22nd session or 23rd session, with a view to reminding Israel of its obligations. Lastly, the Council decided ‘ to reschedule the UPR of Israel with a view of conducting it in 2013, at the 17th session of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review of October-November 2013 at the latest’.
While at first sight it seems that the international community wants to send a clear and unified message that it wishes this mechanism to remain universally applicable, FIACAT is concerned by this decision, which could open the door to a new practice: that of an empty chair policy liable to result in a two speed human rights mechanism under which states that flout human rights can simply renege on their obligations in that field. It seems essential for Israel, like all other UN member states, to attend the next UPR session to which it is convened.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism was created in 2007 by the UN Human Rights Council to enable regular assessment of respect by all UN member states of their human rights obligations and commitments. Every year, 42 states are reviewed at three sessions lasting two weeks.
Lionel GRASSY: email@example.com - +41 78 74 99 328