UN Vote on Israel Part of a Pattern

by Anne Bayefsky

Canada's recent vote in the United Nations Security Council -- for an inflammatory resolution totally one-sided in its condemnation of Israel -- should come as no surprise to anyone. Throughout the Liberal government's term of office, Canada has consistently failed to press for objective treatment of Israel by the UN.

Every year, the General Assembly passes more resolutions against Israel than against any other state, despite the gross human rights violations that regularly occur in other countries. This was the case before the Oslo accords, after the Oslo accords, and during every kind of Israeli government. Canada has voted for virtually all such resolutions for years.

Take this past year. In the 1999 General Assembly, 19 resolutions were passed criticizing only Israel. According to the General Assembly, Israel is solely responsible for the area's "suffering," "daily human rights violations," "hostility" and "dismal lives." The language of these resolutions prejudges all the political claims:

Palestinians own Jerusalem.

Syria owns the water.

Millions of Palestinian refugees have the right to return to "their homes and former places of residence."

Not a word is said about the responsibility of others.

No mention of Arab governments that have rejected the existence of the state of Israel from its inception.

No mention of decades of anti-Semitism in textbooks, religious centres or state-controlled media.

Not a word about parents who deliberately put their children on the front lines.

These inflammatory resolutions make a negotiated solution less likely. Where has Canada stood on them? We voted "for" in 14 cases and abstained in five. Not once did we have the courage to vote "against." Last month, two weeks after the Security Council vote, Canada chose to abstain on another General Assembly resolution, which once again specifically identifies only one user of force, one obstacle to peace, and one perpetrator of illegal acts of violence. Nowhere does one find General Assembly resolutions criticizing human rights abuses by Israel's enemies.

The same attitude is on display in all UN fora. At the 2000 UN Commission on Human Rights, for example, five resolutions condemning Israel were adopted. Canada's voting record: two in favour and three abstentions.

But what about the human rights of Palestinians under the Palestinian Authority? The 1999-2000 Report of the Swiss-based Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers says: "The executive authority, in particular President Arafat, wields most power and continues to act with relative impunity ... and the executive authority routinely refuses to enforce judicial decisions ... President Arafat's continued refusal to sign the Basic Law effectively stops the development of clear government structure based on democratic principles, the separation of powers and the Rule of Law."

There are currently six human rights "mandates" established by the UN to critique Israel (there are 17 others for the entire rest of the world). Canada abstained in the September, 2000, decision to create another forum -- which consisted of a special session of the UN Human Rights Commission. The result was to give yet another platform for venting hatred and anti-Semitism, with the Sudanese lecturing the Israelis on "genocide," the Libyans preaching about "repression," and the Iranians on "ethnic cleansing."

The UN Charter proclaims the equality of nations large and small. In no case is this principle flouted more than in Israel's. It is a little-known fact that Israel is the only UN member that is refused full membership in any one of the UN's five regional groups. Without a group affiliation, a nation cannot put forward its own nationals for election to most UN bodies. As things stand, Israel can't be elected to the Commission on Human Rights or the Security Council. The "Western European and Others Group" has a regional sub-group of which Canada is a part. Canada has done nothing to open even these doors.

Canada's recent Security Council vote was not an aberration. It was part of a pattern this government has followed for years. But for Stockwell Day's raising the issue, no one would have noticed it.

But now that people have noticed, it has touched a raw nerve, a nerve already chafed by this federal government's callous disregard of the equality rights of Jewish citizens in Ontario. In contrast to their Catholic neighbours, Jewish and all non-Catholic taxpayers in Ontario receive no public funding to send their children to religious schools. Today marks the one-year anniversary of an independent expert committee's finding that Canada's preferential system stands in violation of international human rights law, and a fundamental UN treaty -- the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The federal government says the provinces would complain if it implemented international law in areas such as education. The problem with this theory is that all the provinces told the federal government to ratify the treaty on their behalf. Holding provincial premiers to their word is not trenching on provincial turf. The same is true for the Social Union agreement, in which federal and provincial governments specifically agreed on the first principle of "equality, respect for diversity [and] fairness." The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that Canada's international partners can trust Canada's signature on international agreements.

So there are no excuses. Just a one-of-the-gang attitude when it comes to the UN's political bodies, and a we'll-do-it-our-way attitude when it comes to UN international human rights law. The Prime Minister claims this election is about values. The only value many in the Jewish community will think he's talking about is hypocrisy.

Anne Bayefsky is professor of international law in the Political Science Department at York University. She was counsel to Arieh Waldman in the religious schools funding case before the UN Human Rights Committee.

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