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The United Nations and Israel

Israel's Second-class Status At The UN

Anne Bayefsky - February 18, 2003

Much has been made about the election of Libya -- a state with a notoriously poor human rights record -- to the Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission. But few know that the only United Nations member state that is deprived of equal participatory rights at the UN is Israel.

Last week Israel's second-class status at the UN was again demonstrated by the defeat of the Israeli candidate for the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Yehudit Karp is the committee's current rapporteur. In the past, she had been chosen by fellow members as vice-chair and was a seasoned, well-respected committee member.

Her defeat follows the defeat of the Israeli candidate for the election to the UN Human Rights Committee in September 2002; the defeat of the Israeli candidate and sitting member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in August 2002; and the defeat of the Israeli candidate for election to the UN Racial Discrimination Committee in January 2002. In fact, the only remaining elected Israeli on a UN body anywhere is Mayer Gabay, vice-chair of the UN Administrative Tribunal -- whose term ends in December of this year and who is not permitted by general rules concerning time limits to stand for re-election.

By contrast, Egypt has members on all six of the UN human rights treaty bodies. In fact, the Egyptian candidate for the Committee on the Rights of the Child was elected with the highest number of votes by the 191 parties to the Child Convention. This is despite the fact that the leading child rights international NGO (based in Geneva) put out an advisory to countries before the vote. It said: "NGOs feel that she is not very knowledgeable nor reliable on the issues ... due to her strong affiliation and history with the Egyptian government." Translation: When countries of interest to Egypt are considered by the committee, an Egyptian government official sits close to the "independent" Egyptian member just to make sure they get it right.

Israel is also the only UN member state denied membership in any of the UN's five regional groups, which elect UN bodies in Geneva. Elections in the UN are normally based on regional representation or slates prearranged by regional groups. Israel qualifies for membership in the Western European and Others Group (WEOG), composed of geographically diverse states including Canada and Australia. But WEOG, driven by states such as France, refuses to admit Israel to its Geneva operations. This has the consequence that Israel cannot be elected to a whole range of UN bodies. For instance, Israel cannot stand for election to WIPO -- the World Intellectual Property Organization. Similarly, Israel is prevented from running for the International Labour Organization's Governing Body.

Lacking UN regional group membership in Geneva means that Israel is the only UN member forced to sit out consultations on draft resolutions and UN Geneva-based business of all kinds. Israel is refused any possibility of participating in the consultations of regional bodies in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development the World Health Organization. The meetings behind closed doors of regional groups at the Commission on Human Rights negotiate the language of resolutions on all subjects without any Israeli participation. In recent years, Sweden and Co. in the European Union have enjoyed negotiating an agreed-upon level of hostility on the myriad anti-Israel resolutions with Arab states on the commission, before Israeli diplomats got a copy of a first draft.

Even Israel's limited participation in the WEOG regional group in New York is circumscribed by the caveat that existing rotation schemes not be disturbed. The result? WEOG membership in the UN Economic and Social Council has already been tied up until 2021.

As for UN staffers, official lists of the UN secretariat from July 2002 count 24 Israelis and 27 from "Palestine."

Algeria, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Zimbabwe pass judgment on human rights at the UN Commission on Human Rights. China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates specialize in the rights of women at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Iran is one of five members on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan scrutinize the implementation of labour standards on the Governing Council of the International Labour Organization.

In the meantime, representatives and experts from the democratic and Jewish state of Israel are disqualified, blackballed, or left standing in the halls of UN bodies everywhere.

Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and professor of political science at York University.

©2003 National Post

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