Israel defends itself before UN rights body

Israel defended its record before the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, marking an end to its 18-month boycott of the body over scrutiny of the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel defends itself before UN rights body
Palais Wilson, home to the UN Human Rights Council. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"Our record is before you," Israeli ambassador Eviator Manor told the council, which is the United Nations' top human rights forum.

 "It is not a perfect record."
Israel's deputy attorney general Shai Nitzan also addressed the council, which the Jewish state repeatedly has accused of bias.
"Israel has been regularly subject to significant, and often politically motivated, scrutiny over the years, disproportional to the worldwide human rights situation," Nitzan said.
"The promotion of human rights is a just, yet complex task, in every society — especially in a democratic, multicultural society that constantly confronts terrorism — and is one which we are committed too," he added.
All 193 UN member states are meant to undergo a four-yearly review of their rights record.
Israel has faced widespread criticism for ramping up its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed east Jerusalem.
Arab members of the council, along with Cuba, Venezuela and Russia, hit out over its treatment of Palestinians, while Turkey criticized the "shameful situation" and the "impunity of settlers".
A string of European countries also took Israel to task, with Britain saying it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in the territories.
Peter Mulrean, deputy ambassador of staunch Israeli ally the United States, praised a "strong commitment and track record in upholding human rights, political freedom and civil liberties".
But he also sounded a critical note on domestic policy, urging Israel to boost resources for Israeli Arab and Bedouin communities and guard against the clout of Orthodox rabbis in determining policies that could discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews.
The review process offers other UN members a chance to quiz a country about its rights record and the steps taken to redress failings, but does not set out sanctions for those found at fault.
On January 29th, Israel became the first country to boycott its turn in the spotlight.
It cut ties with the council in March 2012 after the body said it would probe the human rights impact of Israeli settlements.
Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi said on Tuesday that Israel's presence showed that it wanted to pick and choose when to accept scrutiny.
"I think that Israel only understands the language of pressure," he said.

"So its presence today has no value."
In a statement, Human Rights Watch's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said Israel's decision to attend was "a positive step" but that more was needed.
"Israel should now recognize that its human rights obligations apply to occupied Palestinian territory, start working with the UN's human rights team in the West Bank and stop blocking visits from UN rights experts," she added.
Israel's decision to attend reportedly came after Germany warned of a diplomatic backlash if it again stayed away.

Council chair Poland, which like Germany has close ties with Israel, also pushed for an end to the boycott.
Manor told reporters that "many friends of Israel, including European countries" had shown support for his country's concerns.
But he said that attending the review did not imply total re-engagement with the council.
"There are no specific conditions, but there is a principle," he said.

"And the principle is the unfair treatment of Israel must come to an end."

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US admits police killings thwart civil rights

The United States acknowledged in Geneva on Monday that more needed to be done to uphold its civil rights laws following a string of recent killings of unarmed black men by police.

US admits police killings thwart civil rights
Riot police contend with demonstration over death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month. Photo: AFP

Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, a US representative stressed the advances his country had made in establishing a range of civil rights laws over the past half century.
But referring to a long line of recent cases of alleged abuse of African Americans by police, James Cadogan, a senior counselor in the justice department's civil rights division, admitted that "we must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to their promise."
"The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and Walter Scott in South Carolina have . . . challenged us to do better and to work harder for progress," he said.
The United States was undergoing a so-called Universal Periodic Review of its rights record — which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years.
The US delegation, headed by US ambassador to the council Keith Harper and acting US legal advisor Mary McLeod, faced a range of questions from diplomats about law enforcement tactics, police brutality and the disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minorities.
The half-day review in Geneva came after the US justice department on Friday launched a federal civil rights investigation into whether police in Baltimore have systematically discriminated against residents, following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in police custody last month.
Six police officers have been charged in connection with Gray's arrest and death.

One faces a second-degree murder charge.
Cadogan insisted Washington was intent on bringing abusive police officers to justice.
"When federal, state, local or tribal officials wilfully use excessive force that violates the US Constitution or federal law, we have authority to prosecute them," he said, pointing to criminal charges brought against more than 400 law enforcement officials over the past six years.
Also on the agenda during Monday's review was the continued use of the death penalty, and the US record on addressing its "war on terror" legacy, including Washington's failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and CIA torture revelations.
"As President (Barack) Obama has acknowledged, we crossed the line, we did not live up to our values, and we take responsibility for that," McLeod said of the past cases of CIA torture, detailed in an explosive Senate report last December.
"We have since taken steps to clarify that the legal prohibition on torture applies everywhere and in all circumstances, and to ensure that the United States never resorts to the use of those harsh interrogation techniques again," she said.