Citing ‘bias against Israel,’ US boycotts UN Human Rights Council session

Citing ‘bias against Israel,’ US boycotts UN Human Rights Council session

By Luke Vargas   
A view of the Human Rights Council Chamber, in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
A view of the Human Rights Council Chamber, in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

UNITED NATIONS – The U.S. boycotted a Monday session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, describing the latest recurring meeting on the situation in Palestine as a sign of the organization’s anti-Israel bias.

“As an expression of our deeply-held conviction that this bias must be addressed in order for the Council to realize its legitimate purpose, the United States decided not to attend the Council’s Item Seven General Debate session,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said.

Known as “Agenda Item Seven,” the council holds a meeting on Palestine during each of its three annual meetings. While 14 other countries are the topic of meetings during council’s month-long session, only the situation in Palestine occupies a permanent spot on the calendar.

“It does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter,” Toner said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley echoed those comments and said Agenda Item Seven “discredits the standing of the only U.N. body specifically designed to address the state of global human rights by allowing nations to distract from their own abuses back home by churning out anti-Israel propaganda.”

During Monday’s meeting on Palestine, 53 countries and outside groups spoke including many of Israel’s most outspoken critics on the world stage.

“We strongly condemn the continued systematic and brutal violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by the Israeli regime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Iranian diplomat Tofigh Sedigh Mostahkam told the council, citing the continued construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Israel did have several defenders in the room during Monday’s session, including representatives from United Nations Watch and the World Jewish Congress, but the United States was not one of them.

Since the first Agenda Item Seven meetings were held during the waning years of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. officials have called the sessions “unbalanced and excessive.” That criticism only intensified throughout the 24 Agenda Item Seven sessions held during the Obama presidency.

Nevertheless, Monday’s boycott marked the most outspoken protest by the U.S. against the meetings, and State Department officials have signaled their willingness to sit out the sessions,

According to Foreign Policy magazine, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is assessing whether the United States should continue its membership on the Human Rights Council.

“The Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate,” Tillerson wrote in a letter to nine nonprofit groups.

Opinions are reportedly divided over a potential withdrawal from the council. Some U.S. diplomats see the value in America’s presence and consistent votes against resolutions targeting Israel, while others believe the council and its members are not poised to moderate their positions and that U.S. frustrations would be more clearly demonstrated by withdrawal.

The United States was not a member of the Human Rights Council during the first three years of its operations, but it successfully pursued a rotating three-year seat on the body in 2009. The United States last vied for and won membership on the council in October 2016 and will serve on the council until late 2019.

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