The real story of the UN Human Rights Council: Europe slams Israeli crimes

Last week, Israel found itself isolated and condemned in Geneva, as the United Nations Human Rights Council passed four damning resolutions, each by 46-1. The resolutions testify to grave violations of international law, including the Geneva Conventions, as well as systematic discrimination and wide-scale human rights abuses.

Settlements, whose illegality is confirmed in the resolutions, are described as entailing “the confiscation of land, the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, including Bedouin families, the exploitation of natural resources and other actions against the Palestinian civilian population”.

The resolutions also cite “the continuing demolition of Palestinian homes and eviction of Palestinian families from [East Jerusalem]”, “the destruction of orchards and crops”, the “expulsion of Palestinians”, a “two-tier legal system”, and a “discriminatory allocation of water resources”.

Importantly, the UNHRC’s resolutions contextualise the litany of abuses as part of a “systematic violation” of Palestinians’ human rights”. Israeli policies “discriminate against” an occupied people, while settlers are afforded “preferential treatment over the Palestinian population in terms of access to roads, infrastructure, land, property, housing, natural resources and judicial mechanisms”.

And who condemned Israeli policies in these terms? 46 of 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council – everyone, in other words, bar the USA. What’s noteworthy about this consensus (Washington aside) is that it included nine European Union member states: Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Romania, and the UK.

Even before the vote, Italy’s representative Maurizio Enrico Serra told the council that the EU supports the motions and member states would be voting accordingly. This united stance by European members of the Council was lamented by Israeli officials, and well they might – for it undermines a key part of the propaganda campaign against the UNHRC.

Netanyahu, and others like UN Watch, typically lambast the Council as a hypocritical body dominated by serial human rights abusers – yet for the votes of 9 EU member states they have no rejoinder. These are the countries who Israel has looked to in the UN for a so-called “quality minority” of support. Last week in Geneva, Israel’s ‘quality minority’ consisted solely of the US delegation – while on the other side were countries from Europe, South America, Africa and Asia.

Another accusation levelled at the UNHRC by Israeli officials and Zionist lobby groups is that the body is, in the words of American Jewish Committee head David Harris, obsessed with “singling out” Israel. Netanyahu complained that while human rights abuses afflict the region, Israel is condemned “for closing off a balcony” (a reference to settlement construction).

Yet the claim is disingenuous. During its 25th session, the UNHRC passed 42 resolutions – five of which pertained to Israel. A whole host of issues came under the spotlight: Syria, torture, Burma, violence against children, Libya, South Sudan, Mali, drones, sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran, Guinea, and more.

As a senior Amnesty campaigner drily put it, “Netanyahu wants the UN to condemn every single human rights violation in the world before he ignores them on Israel’s abuses”.

The UNHRC also decided to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. In response, the country’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed that the resolution “hurts our reconciliation efforts“, while Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, slammed the resolution as “partisan“.

Compare this to remarks made by World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer, who described UNHRC resolutions on Israel as “one-sided” and “harmful to the peace process”. Israel and its lobbyists are in awkward company.

46 countries, including nine EU member states, have endorsed four resolutions that describe Israel as a persistent violator of international law and guilty of systematic discrimination. This is, in other words, reflective of the EU’s understanding of what is happening on the ground.

Holding Europe back from taking punitive measures against such a reality is Kerry’s peace process. With the talks in deep trouble, last week’s resolutions augur something more serious for Israel than yet more condemnation in an international forum.


Ben White, 1st April 2012, Middle East Monitor,