When Pakistan announced the Palestinian situation is “not a human rights issue”

Only three years old, the wayward U.N. Human Rights Council is already the subject of a new international discussion on reform. When the 47-nation body was created by the U.N. General Assembly in March 2006, a review was called for after 5 years, in 2011.

In advance, a group convened by France and Mexico (whose former ambassador served as the inaugural council president, and famously slammed me here) has just held the first of a series of planned meetings:

Delegations from 17 countries, representing various regions and bringing various perspectives on the role of the Human Rights Council, participated in the meeting: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Ghana, India, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, the Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also participating were representatives from the Geneva headquarters of the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and from the nongovernmental organizations Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Watch. More…

What should we expect in the great reform debate?

More of what we already saw during the same debates held in 2005 to 2007. Perhaps the most amusing moment of that period was when the tyrannies and kleptocracies tried to justify their vehement opposition to any resolution that criticizes countries (i.e., themselves), but their fervent commitment to adopting multiple resolutions, in every session, criticizing Israel. It’s one of the glaring hypocrisies that passes as normal here at the UN.

At one point, as summarized by the ISHR (pp. 10-11), the Pakistani representative actually found himself telling the UN Human Rights Council that the Palestinian territories was “not a human right issue,” something on which the Swiss envoy immediately seized:

Once the debate was opened, China took the opportunity to reiterate its arguments, stating that the abuse of country mandates was the single largest contributor leading to the demise of the Commission and that imposing a 2/3 majority vote might help to solve this problem. Several States responded by reiterating their position that all decisions should be taken by simple majority. The Republic of Korea argued that 2/3 majority decision-making might paralyse the work of the Council. The UK argued that there was no precedent in the General Assembly for a 2/3 majority vote being used for country issues. China directly contested this, arguing that the General Assembly has used a 2/3 majority vote to decide on issues relating to former Italian colonies, the Tunisian question and South Africa. Germany (on behalf of the EU) argued that defining ‘important questions’ could ‘open a Pandora’s box’ of cherry picking between different issues. To illustrate this point, it argued that logically, if all ‘important questions’ had to be passed by a 2/3 majority, questions relating to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) would also have to be passed in this way as this is clearly a very important question.

Germany’s comment regarding the OPT sparked a whole new debate regarding the nature of the problem in OPT and whether decisions on this would indeed need to be submitted to a 2/3 majority vote, as Germany (on behalf of the EU) had suggested. Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) initially argued that the OPT would not fall into the category of ‘important questions regarding human rights’ on the grounds that it is not a human rights issue, but a unique situation of occupation, and therefore should not be submitted to 2/3 majority voting.

Switzerland countered this by arguing that if the OPT is not a human rights issue, it should not be addressed by the Human Rights Council at all. Following this, several States took the line that the OPT could not be seen as a ‘country situation’ and was therefore not comparable to the question of country mandates. Egypt and Cuba declared that the situation of OPT cannot be compared to any other country situation, but was a unique situation, as apartheid was. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC) reasoned that the occupation is a violation of human rights in itself, and therefore the OPT is a thematic issue and cannot be considered a country situation. China supported this line of reasoning, arguing that the Special Rapporteur on the OPT does not look at the human rights situation in Israel, and neither does he assess mainly human rights violations by Israel. Instead, he looks at the theme of the plight of a people affected by the occupation.

Russia proposed a compromise solution whereby all decisions would be taken by a simple majority, but that the Council could decide that a decision required a 2/3 majority using a simple majority vote.


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