Israel failed to appear before the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for its second review scheduled yesterday on Tuesday 29 January. It is the first time a State does not appear for its own review and this situation created a dangerous precedent for the UPR mechanism, and for the respect for human rights worldwide.
Israel had suspended its relations with the Human Rights Council (HRC) in a letter published on 14 May 2012. As a consequence, it did not submit a national report due in October 2012, was not present for the selection of its troika on 14 January 2013 and it was therefore expected that it would not participate in its own UPR.
In reaction, the Human Rights Council decided to reschedule its UPR in 2013, at the 17th Working Group session (21 October - 1 November 2013) at the latest, and called upon Israel to resume its cooperation with the UPR mechanism. The HRC President was also requested to report at the 22nd or 23rd session of the HRC on his efforts to bring Israel back to the UPR. The decision A/HRC/OM/7/1 - A, C, E, F, R, S adopted by the HRC containing those steps will constitute a precedent to be applied to future cases of non-cooperation.
Numerous States took the floor yesterday to condemn the non-participation of Israel. Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, expressed its fears and concerns that the absence of Israel will have consequences for the future of the mechanism. Gabon, on behalf of the African Group, was afraid that this situation will weaken the mechanism and create a precedent while Turkey explained that the "HRC risked of opening a breach in the system by allowing a non-cooperating country a delay and by setting a bad precedent".
It is noteworthy that the decision was adopted by consensus. The international community sent a clear message of unity to keep the universality of this mechanism, notion at the core of the process and which had proven its utility. While the universality of the UPR is subject to questioning since Israel defection, the HRC consensus on such a sensitive matter has to be positively acknowledged.
However, States did not agree on whether the non-participation of Israel was a case of "persistent non-cooperation" as contained in article 38 of resolution 5/1 which the HRC can "address". The fact that Israel called the HRC President on 10 January to ask for the postponement of its review was regarded by some States as a form of cooperation and considered by others as not an official request. Ireland, on behalf of the European Union, took Israel’s phone call as a "positive signal" while Venezuela believed Israel’s behaviour was not a case of non-cooperation "yet". Along those lines, Canada explained that the HRC has yet to define the concept of "non-cooperation". On the contrary, Egypt called Israel’s absence as "clear case of non cooperation and non compliance" and Indonesia qualified Israel’s attitude as "non-cooperative" while Palestine asked for proof of the phone call by the Ambassador of Israel to the HRC President.
UPR Info strongly regrets the absence of Israel to its own UPR, the first United Nations member to do so, and calls on Israel to resume its cooperation with the UPR to ensure its review at the next session from 22 April to 3 May.
The steps developed in the decision adopted by consensus by the HRC are not satisfactory and should not be the basis for the next countries failing to participate. UPR Info calls on the HRC to develop stronger modalities that will prevent other States to avoid or postpone so easily their UPR.
In order to avoid further cases, the HRC has the responsibility to define the concept of “persistent non-cooperation” and the actions to take when facing such situation, as UPR Info had already called upon on 10 December 2012.