Israel snubs UN human rights review

GENEVA (AFP) - Israel on Tuesday boycotted a special United Nations Human Rights Council review of its rights situation, becoming the first country ever to snub such a session.

"I see that the delegation of Israel is not in the room," council president Remigiusz Henczel told the delegates at the United Nations in Geneva.

The Jewish state is not a member of the council but like all 193 UN countries it is required to undergo Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of its human rights situation.

Its absence on Tuesday however came as no surprise.

Israel cut all ties with the 47-member state council last March after the body announced that it would probe how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

Earlier on Tuesday, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman told AFP the country intended to boycott the meeting.

"We cut all our contacts with the council last March, including the current activity," Yigal Palmor said, stressing: "Our policy has not changed."

Israel's failure to show up for its UPR marks the first time since the reviews began in 2007 that the country under evaluation has been absent without explanation, and it was unclear how the rights council would react.

When Haiti delayed its UPR in early 2010 its justification was the devastating earthquake that hit the country that year, claiming more than 300,000 lives.

On Tuesday, after Israel failed to show, Mr Henczel said the council would wait 30 minutes and then convene to determine how to proceed.

In a draft decision he hoped the council would back with a full consensus, Mr Henczel was set to call on Israel "to resume its cooperation with the UPR" and urge that the review be rescheduled for later this year.

In an email to AFP late last year, the Israeli mission in Geneva said it would boycott the Human Rights Council "for as long as it is treated differently than other countries".

Israel has complained that it is the only country to have a specific agenda item dedicated to it at every meeting of the council, and that the body has passed an inordinate number of resolutions against it.

On Tuesday, a coalition of 15 Israeli and Palestinian organisations warned of "the far-reaching consequences" of Israel's no-show.

"This lack of transparency will not only mean that Israel avoids rigorous criticism of its violations of international law, but that the entire UPR system will be undermined by the loss of its two fundamental principles: equality and universality," they said in a joint statement.