Israel became the first country to boycott a U.N. review of its human rights practices on Tuesday, shunning efforts by the U.S. and others to encourage its participation in a process in which all countries have hitherto taken part.

Israel did not appear at a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday when it was due to present a report as part of a Universal Periodic Review process under which all 193 member-states submit every four years to a scrutiny of their human rights record.

Israel’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva informally notified the Council it did not intend to take part, triggering intense behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade Israel to reconsider and to determine the Council’s response to the unprecedented situation that would arise if it did not.

“We have encouraged the Israelis to come to the Council and to tell their story and to present their own narrative of their own human rights situation,” said U.S. Ambassador to the Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said last week.

Diplomats in Geneva believe the Council will likely adopt a resolution giving its president Remigiusz Henczel, time to try to persuade Israel to take part in the review later this year. But they say there have been differences between Islamic countries and other Council members over how much time and latitude to allow. Efforts to persuade Israel to reconsider have been complicated by its recent elections and the process now under way to form a new coalition government.

Israel’s decision reflects its longstanding frustration with the Council’s perceived anti-Israeli bias, said diplomats. Over half the resolutions passed by the Council since it started work in 2006 have targeted Israel, which is also the only country to feature as a standing item on the Council’s agenda.

Despite these tensions, Israel, until last year, had preferred to work with the Council and in December 2008 participated in the review of its human rights record. Last May, however, Israel informed it that it had decided to disengage from what it called “a political tool and convenient platform, cynically used to advance certain political aims, to bash and demonise Israel”.

Council members are anxious to preserve the universal and collaborative characteristics of its review process, which has provided a platform to scrutinise and discuss the situation of human rights in even the most closed and repressive regimes.

“The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed,” said Ms. Donahoe in her comments - New York Times News Service

More In: International | News