Issue 166: UN Human Rights Council Opens Permanent Indictment of Israel

Egyptian ambassador interrupts UN Watch speech on biased agenda

Geneva, Sept. 20, 2007  — Today the UN Human Rights Council launched a new agenda item singling out Israel for permanent indictment. The debate allowed the Palestinian representative to take the floor and accuse Israel of “atrocities”, Syria to charge Israel with “Judaising” the Golan, and the Islamic group to protest Israel’s “entry of Syrian airspace.” Cuba on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement complained Israel was “excavating around the Al-Aqsa mosque.” Iran, Kuwait, Algeria, and Venezuela and others also joined in condemning the Jewish state.

When UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer spoke out in the council plenary against the biased agenda, Egyptian Ambassador Sameh Shoukry interrupted with objections. Israel and Syria then entered the fray, but finally UN Watch was allowed to finish. Watch video selections from the debate by clicking on the above link, or see the text below.


UN Watch Remarks to UN Human Rights Council
September 20, 2007

The Agenda Item Targeting Israel

Delivered by Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch

Mr. President, we meet today in the council’s first debate on specific countries. The agenda item is “the Human Rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.” The rest of the world only gets treated next week – in the same amount of time allotted for one country today.

Let us consider the title of today’s item. Should we judge this book by its cover?

Not if we listen to the United Nations’ own Department of Public Information. It published a chart last year called “Commission on Human Rights versus Human Rights Council: Key Differences.”

The chart addresses the infamous agenda item from the old Commission — virtually identical to the one today, titled “Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine.”

What is so interesting, however, is that this is not what the UNDPI called it.  Instead, it did something rather brave. It recognized the item for what it really was, calling it, and I quote, “the Agenda Item Targeting Israel.”

Mr. President, the chief promise of reform was to end the bias and double standards that ultimately destroyed the old Commission-the chief example of which was this item.

Yet today we reconvene under the same infamous item — in the plain words of the UNDPI, the “Agenda Item Targeting Israel.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

In the same chart, the UNDPI promised a key difference with this new Council-that it would “start with a clean slate.”

Mr. President, where is the promised “clean slate”?  And if it is not a clean slate, what kind of a slate is it?

Here’s what the leaders of the UN think. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced “the Council’s decision to single out only one specific regional item, given the range of human rights violations throughout the entire world.” High Commissioner Louise Arbour condemned this item as “selective.”

[Ambassador Sameh Shoukry of Egypt interrupted on a point of order: “I think somebody should stand to defend the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner. Because I do not believe the Secreatry-General used the expression ‘denounce’, nor Mrs. Arbour used the expression ‘condemn.’ I stand to be corrected.” (Please see UN Watch editor’s note below.) Ambassador Isaac Levanon of Israel then chided Egypt for its repeated interruptions of NGO speeches.]

[UN Watch then continued:]

When this was adopted in June, my country, Canada, pointed out the Council’s breach of its own principles: universality, impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. Targeting any UN member state, said Canada, is “politicized, selective, partial, and subjective.”

Canada asked to call a vote, but was denied the right to do so. In July, Canada, the United States, and Poland — a member of the European Union — filed official proceedings to challenge this violation of the rule of law.

Soon this item and the package under which it was adopted will go before the General Assembly. If member states heed the voice of the Secretary-General, of the High Commissioner, and of principle, they will restore the promised clean slate by voting to remove this biased item.

Thank you, Mr. President.

* * * * *

Editor’s Note

We regret the unjustified interruption of our speech today by the distinguished representative of Egypt. We stand fully by our quotes and our characterization of such quotes, which should not be confused.

If anything, Egypt’s remarks today confirm what we said in our speech concerning the continued use of double standards.

It is particularly curious for Egypt of all countries to now diminish the importance of the Secretary-General’s June 20, 2007 criticism of the biased agenda item. For it was the very same Egypt that on July 25 responded so sharply to those remarks, choosing the rare if not unprecedented step of taking the floor of the Human Rights Council to question a statement of the Secretary-General. Mr. Ban’s statement, Egypt complained then to the council, was “a very unfortunate development and we would seek further clarification on that statement and the appropriate means of the Council to verify the authenticity of that statement and its context.”

On that day, unlike today, it was not rushing to “defend the Secretary-General” — quite the opposite.

UN Watch