Statement by Ambassador Dan Gillerman
Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
Agenda item 65
"Report of the Human Rights Council"
United Nations, New York
6 November 2007
Six decades ago – as the nascent United Nations was only beginning to sift through the ashes of the Second World War, the Nazi atrocities, and horrors of the Holocaust – the leaders of the world gathered together and drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration would ultimately set the stage for the world body, placing human rights and individual freedoms at the top of the world agenda for years to come. The world watched with great anticipation and hope, championing the elevation of human rights as the only way to prevent the evils of the past.
In the coming year – 2008 – the international community will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of this milestone document, which was intended to be a bulwark against oppression and discrimination. And yet, today, nearly sixty years after the establishment of human rights as a principle pillar of the United Nations, the question must be asked: what has happened to that clarion call for human rights and what has happened to this United Nations?
In its early years, the Commission on Human Rights was the UN’s main organ to vitalize and advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights throughout the world. But over time, the Commission failed miserably in its mandate and expectations, and gradually degenerated into a dysfunctional body. It reached such a nadir that former Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself pointed to what he called the “declining credibility” and “legitimacy deficit” of the Commission, which, in his opinion, “cast[ed] doubt on the overall reputation of the United Nations.” So frustrating was the Commission that the General Assembly of the United Nations ultimately decided to shut it down, and to replace it entirely with a new body, the Human Rights Council.
And the world watched, yet again, with great anticipation and hope, championing human rights as the only way to prevent the evils of the past. Yet the moral bankruptcy and numerous shortcomings of the Commission have not become ancient history. For although different in name, the Commission and the Council, in essence, are one and the same.
The real burning – literally burning – human rights situations in our tormented world have certainly not been reflected in the Council’s deliberations, and one wonders, sadly, if they ever will.
Since inception, the Council has focused primarily on Israel, subjecting it to 12 discriminatory, one-sided resolutions and three special sessions. This reflects nothing less than the immoral, automatic majority enjoyed by some. The only other specific country situations addressed by the Council were Myanmar and Darfur, the latter where the resolutions on it not only failed to find the Sudanese government culpable for atrocities, but even had the audacity to congratulate Sudan for its cooperation.
Perhaps then it was not surprising to see the Council’s blindness when it came to the human rights of Israelis. Where was the Council’s condemnation of Palestinian terrorism against Israel in the face of daily and indiscriminate shelling of homes, schools, and kindergartens by Qassam rockets? What did the Council have to say last July during the unprovoked, massive bombardment of our northern border towns and in the heart of our civilian villages? What has the Council done – if anything – in response to the repeated incitement and calls for Israel’s destruction and denial of the Holocaust by the president of Iran? Nothing. Indeed, the Council’s silence is deafening – eerie and frightening – and, alas, though deeply disappointing, not the least surprising.
After all, the Council’s membership includes some countries whose own records on human rights fall markedly below the standards of the international community, and who cannot genuinely serve as a beacon for human rights when their respective performances are so dismal and poor. According to Freedom House, more than half of the Council’s 47 members are considered “not-free” or only “partially free” countries.
More importantly and most flagrantly, many of these same countries share a political agenda that precludes the State of Israel, and utterly dismiss our inherent right to live in peace and security in our homeland.
While the ritualistic and virulent campaign against Israel in the Council is abhorrent and intolerable, equally troubling is the Council’s resulting disregard for serious human rights violations in many other parts of the world, including among its own members. Under the new institution building package, the special rapporteurs on human rights violations by Cuba and by Belarus were eliminated without any serious discussion or consideration, in blatant disregard for the constituent mandate which established the Human Rights Council, General Assembly resolution A/60/251.
Like its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, the actual Human Rights Council has also adopted a separate standing agenda item on Israel, while the other human rights situations combined from all over the world, have been crammed into one, single agenda item.
Countless others suffering around the globe, living under tyrannical rule and oppression and violated by human rights abusers, do not gain this Council’s attention. Look around the world at the pain and anguish of these people. Where is the world body’s commitment to human rights, to its sacred Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the very bodies it created – recreated – in order to protect and ensure the dignity and rights of each and every individual? The world still watches with astonishment. Yet the Human Rights Council decides to focus on one particular conflict – and for the wrong reason entirely.
The bell tolls for all those concerned with safeguarding and protecting human rights in our world today. This is our wakeup call, and it is high time to listen. Listen before its loud and lurid sound deafens us all.
My delegation does not ask for special treatment. Israel, like any other country in this hall, should be subject to review and constructive criticism on a fair and impartial basis. All we ask is that the international community stands by its own values and lofty principles, if it is to be truly effective in achieving its goal of promoting and protecting human rights around the world.
Sadly, the ghosts of the past Commission haunt the present Council. The Human Rights Council is surely not an improvement on the Commission, and in some ways it is even worse. Hence, Israel – as a member state of this organization – cannot accept the institution building package as is. Israel will call for a vote on the package, and calls on the Member States to consider what message they send with their votes. Compromise – or worse, concessions and lowest common denominators, which some Member States seek as alternatives – are detrimental to the protection of human rights.
As the noted English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” If the good men and women of the international community stay silent, and allow for the Human Rights Council to fail in its mission, it will have been complicit in the downfall of human rights as a core value of this organization.
The international community cannot stand idly by. It must voice its conscience and flex its moral might. It cannot let the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights fall prey to hypocrisy, politics, and prejudice. For that would disastrous for the human rights cause – not only for the United Nations, but for all mankind.
Talking of good men and women, allow me, Mr. Chairman, to voice a personal note. I have been here for nearly five years. I know many of you personality. I know you are indeed good men and women. I know that deep down you feel what I feel, and that if you could, you would voice the same sentiments.
Today, more than ever, and on this issue more than any other, I urge you to do so. Even in this glass building there comes a moment to lay political considerations and expediency aside and do the right thing. If ever there was such a moment, it is now. Let us for once rise above the cynicism and the “what does it matter” and “who cares” of UN jargon.
It does matter, and we should care. The human rights victims matter and the world cares. There are names and faces behind this issue. Those faces and that world are watching us today. Those names and those faces are waiting for us to do the right thing.
Please, let us do it.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.