UN Human Rights Council
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks in the U.N. General Assembly before a vote to boot Libya from the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, March 1, 2011. Photo by AP
Text size

In Israel, the United Nations Human Rights Council is a body known for its dark side. It is widely viewed as a body that spearheads attempts to delegitimize Israel and turn it into a pariah state.

The words 'UN Human Rights Council' arouse associations of the Goldstone Report, the UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, and its 'star' members like Libya, whose membership was recently suspended due to leader Muammar Gadhafi's violent oppression of his own people.

But it appears of late that something right is starting to happen to this body, which recently passed two decisions that criticized the violence in Libya and Syria.

On Friday, the Human Rights Council made a historical decision to adopt the first-ever UN resolution on the rights of homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons (LGBT).

The resolution expresses concern for violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and calls upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to commission a report on the challenges that LGBT persons face around the globe.

The United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity passed with 23 states voting for and 19 against it, with three states who abstained. Among those who voted against were Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. State Department blessed Friday's historical decision, emphasizing the efforts of sponsor state South Africa, and America's vigorous work to help pass the resolution.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that all over the world LGBT people face human rights abuses such as torture, rape, criminal sanctions, and killing.

"Today’s landmark resolution affirms that human rights are universal," said Clinton. "People cannot be excluded from protection simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer for International Organization Affairs, said the country's decision to join the Human Rights Committee effected a significant improvement, and that this change has a positive impact on Israel.

“At the Human Rights Council prior to the U.S. joining in 2009, Israel was singled out for six special sessions, far too many unbalanced resolutions focused on Israel; and far too few resolutions, special procedures, or other attention were directed to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations," said Brimmer.

"The challenges continue at the Council, but the Council’s improvement through U.S. engagement is undeniable," she added.

Brimmer emphasized the determination of the United States to "ensure that Israel is treated fairly, that its security is never in doubt, and that Israel has the same rights and responsibilities as all UN member states."

Brimmer brought up the topic of the Goldstone Report, referring to it as "deeply flawed", and reiterated what senior government officials have said time after that the United States opposes it. "We have been clear that we want to see UN action end in relation to the report," said Brimmer.

Brimmer also referred to last year's flotilla, saying the United States voted against multiple resolutions at the Human Rights Council.

"We have joined the Secretary-General in his call on Governments to use their respective influence to discourage future flotillas, and avoid unnecessary and unhelpful provocative actions that seek to bypass the effective mechanisms that exist to deliver goods and services to Gaza," she said.

In addition to the U.S. efforts aimed directly at assisting Israel, Brimmer also noted those efforts made to exclude Iran from Human Rights Council participation.

Though Israeli diplomats admit there has been an improvement in the UN Human Rights Council's attitude and actions towards Israel, September still lingers in the future, where a 'Durban III' is expected to take place - a conference that the United States will reject being a part of.

But on Friday, Israel demanded that the UN plenary vote and nullify the agenda of the Human Rights Commission for the next five years, which includes a clause concerning human rights violations in Israel (Clause 7). Other countries are referred to together in a separate clause (4), without singling them out.

The result of the vote was that only three other countries in addition to Israel – including the United States and Canada - voted against the agenda, which was passed with massive support from 154 countries. Israel's Ambassador to the UN Prosor was indignant over the result of the vote, on only his second day in the position.

"I entered the position in the middle of a storm, I had no choice. I can't sit on the balcony, like the hecklers in the Muppets, I have to come down onto the stage and roll up my sleeves. We knew what was happening," says Prosor.

"But while Assad is butchering his own people and Gadhafi is shooting civilians, Israel is violating human rights? That's absurd. It's like letting Jack the Ripper run Scotland Yard, that's the UN Human Rights Commission."

"It's incredible, we see here systemic blatant discrimination that arises from cynical political interests. This vote says more about the Human Rights Commission than it says about Israel. We made a statement of principles, and we are not willing to compromise here. I think the Commission missed an opportunity to turn into a body that can be taken seriously."

"Israel is a democratic state that is open to relevant criticism, and that has a great justice system, it is the only democracy in the region. We are unwilling to accept here any systemic discrimination."