GENEVA - Israel on Tuesday became the first country to withhold cooperation from a U.N. review of its human rights practices, shunning efforts by the United States and others to encourage it to participate.
Representatives from Israel did not appear at a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday for a report by the council as part of what is known as the Universal Periodic Review process, in which all 193 member states had previously participated.
Israel's mission to the United Nations in Geneva informally notified the Human Rights Council this month that it wanted to delay its participation but did not follow up with a formal request for postponement, creating uncertainty about its intentions. The uncertainty led to intense behind-the-scenes discussions to persuade Israel to reconsider its position.
"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," the U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said last week. "The United States is absolutely, fully behind the Universal Periodic Review, and we do not want to see the mechanism in any way harmed."
The underlying concern expressed by many council members in Tuesday's session is that Israel's decision to stay away from the review had broken established practice of cooperation observed by all countries, opening the door to noncooperation by others. The greater concern, some members said, is that if Israel persists in this action it will jeopardize a collaborative peer review process widely valued for shedding light on the human rights practices of even the most closed and repressive governments.
"If the Israeli government is not careful, it will ruin an important global human rights process for everybody," Peter Splinter, a Geneva representative of Amnesty International, said in a blog post.
The council decided by consensus Tuesday that its president, Remigiusz Henczel of Poland, should try to persuade Israel to resume cooperation with the review and to report on the result of his efforts in March, with an eye on rescheduling Israel's review at the latest in November.