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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


Third session meeting highlights

4 December 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Israel this afternoon, during which 54 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Luxembourg following the review of the country on Tuesday, 3 December.

Presenting the national report of Israel was AHARON LESHNO-YAAR, Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Israel in Geneva, who said there was a certain sense of pride within the culture of human rights that Israel had managed to develop in the six decades since the founding of the State. This culture was a work in progress, but it was a fundamental part of the vision that drove the State of Israel. Israel was founded as a refuge for Jewish exiles from all over the world, who returned to the land of their forefathers after centuries of discrimination and forced displacement. The urgent necessity of establishing such a sanctuary for the Jewish people became even more starkly evident after the horrors of World War II and the mass murder of the Shoah – the Holocaust. In rebuilding their homeland, the founders of Israel were committed to creating a society which would enshrine protections against such human rights abuses, and which reflected the values of the biblical prophets.

The head of delegation said Israel’s record was not perfect, but the advantage of being a democracy was that multiple mechanisms existed for critical dialogue and oversight. The UPR, and the determined approach Israel took in preparation of its appearance, was one such mechanism. Israel was also party to the core human rights treaties and had played host to the visit of eight Special Rapporteurs in the last three years, most recently the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. Moreover, Israel had several domestic mechanisms which constantly reviewed its human rights record. Israel was aware that the protection of human rights was an unending challenge and that an appearance before the Working Group once every four years must reflect a daily efforts to ensure that its society was constantly moving closer to fulfilment of its vision.

Also taking the floor during the introduction was MALKIEL BLASS, Deputy Attorney General in the Ministry of Justice of Israel, who noted that since its establishment, Israel had faced continuous security threats, including suicide terrorism and indiscriminate armed attacks against its civilians. Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – was composed of many parties, including parties of minorities. The parliament was composed of Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, men and women. The message of the Supreme Court was that racism and democracy were incompatible. One of the most important cornerstones of human rights protection in Israel was the independence of the judiciary, and especially the Supreme Court, which was an active court in which judicial review was available – to Israelis and Palestinians alike. Moreover, all Israeli residents were entitled to free and primary and secondary education, from the age of 5 until 18, and in some areas even form the age of 3. Pupils with disabilities were entitled by law to be integrated with the general education system and the law required that school facilities be modified for their needs. All resident in Israel were entitled to public health insurance. Additionally, progress has been made with regards to gay and lesbian rights; the Supreme Court acknowledged economical and social rights to same sex couples. The principle of equality was a basic principle in the Israeli legal system and was one of the most important tools in advancing the equality of Israel’s Arab citizens. A special Knesset commission of inquiry committee was currently investigating difficulties faced by Arabs integrating in Israeli society.

Responding to questions submitted in advance, Ambassador Leshno-Yaar said Israel did not have a single independent human rights body, although there were a number of bodies which had a role in safeguarding human rights. Israel considered cooperating with civil society on human rights matters as vital. NGO representatives had been invited to join Israel’s delegations at international fora. Arab Israelis held a number of senior positions in the Israeli Government. The child mortality rate continued to decline, but it was still high on the international scale. Workshops were also talking place to sensitize the police and law enforcement officials on human rights matters.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included Israel’s accession to nearly all of the core international human rights treaties; Israel’s cooperation with the treaty bodies; steps taken to ensure Parliamentary scrutiny of the state of emergency, and to bring the state of emergency to an end; the progressive role of the Supreme Court in advancing human rights in the country; the work conducted by Israeli NGOs to defend human rights; the appointment of a national coordination mechanism to prevent human trafficking; efforts to improve the rights of persons with disabilities; the imposition of a de facto moratorium on the death penalty; the measures and legislation aimed at the promotion of gender equality; and the enactment of the Criminal Procedure Law of 2007.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures taken to allow the freedom of movement and access to the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank; steps being taken to review the humanitarian impact of its security measures; how the access of humanitarian personnel, diplomats and international media representatives to Gaza can be ensured; steps being taken to promote a culture of personal accountability so as to ensure that treatment of detainees was in accordance with international standards and to ensure that those responsible for ill treatment were held accountable; whether all recommendations of the Human Rights Committee of 2003 have been implemented addressing targeting killings of suspected terrorists; and whether there was a timetable or plan to dismantle the separation wall.

Other questions pertained to information concerning the estimated schedule for the remaining procedures for the High Court of Justice as regards the draft legislation in light of the state of emergency; Steps envisaged to ensure that legislation conformed to the norms of freedom of speech and assembly as well as political rights to elect and to be elected for all citizens; measures taken against law enforcement officials for mistreatment of prisoners; steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; reasons for the no-ratification of the ICC Rome Statute; the State’s policies on the detention of minors; policies adopted in view of implementing legislation to address human trafficking, prostitution, slavery, child pornography and transnational organized crimes; and steps being taken to protect the rights of human rights defenders.

Additionally questions covered the implementation of the Gender Implications Legislation; steps being taken to respect the rights of inter-married Arab-Israeli citizens; efforts to improve the socio-economic situation of Bedouins with Israeli citizenship; whether minority groups were consulted in the preparation of their Universal Periodic Review; steps taken to improve the rights of minorities in terms of employment, budget allocations, land lease, official planning, education, health and poverty reduction; steps being taken to implement to recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; steps taking to consistently define the age of the child as 18; and measures undertaken in the promotion of the rights of the child with special attention to the issue of criminal age.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To end the occupation of all Palestinian and Arab Territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan; to respect the rights of the Palestinian to self-determination and the establishment of their independent State with Jerusalem as its capital; to fully implement the advisory opinion of the ICJ and dismantle the separation wall; to end all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in particular in and around Jerusalem; to immediately cease its military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and to lift the closure it imposed on the Gaza strip; to reopen the passage to and from the Gaza Strip; to fully respect its human rights obligations in the country, including in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; to halt operations of destruction of houses in East Jerusalem; and for the international community to do its utmost to resolve the crisis in the Middle East.

Additionally, recommendations made included: To fully and immediately implement all recommendations of high-level fact-finding missions to the Occupied to Palestinian Territory; to recognize the right of refugees to return to their homes, per the Convention on Refugees; to limit the restrictions to freedom of movement; except for those aimed to enhance security, which were in line with international standards; to intensify efforts to ensure that human rights were respect in the fight against terrorism; to respect its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention; to immediately release all Palestinian, Syrian and other Arab prisoners and detainees; to allow international organizations, particularly the ICRC, to visit Palestinian, Syrian and Arab prisoners inside Israeli jails and look into their health conditions; to take immediate action to ensure that the rights of all detainees were respected; and to ensure that prisoners were informed of charges and evidence against them, had prompt access to counsel of their choice and were given a fair trial.

Among the other recommendations made were for Israel to implement the recommendations by the Committee against Torture; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to investigate allegations of violence and killings by the police and also to ensure that the State fully respect international human rights standards; to consider ratifying the Convention on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; to cease all excavations around the Al Aqsa Mosque; to ensure access to religious sites and to respect religious freedom; to suspend the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law; to ensure that Bedouin populations had access to basic public services; to counter discrimination against minorities; and to implement the recommendations of the Or Commission of 2003 as regards discrimination against minorities.

Another group of recommendations included: To ensure that human rights defenders were able to carry out their work effectively; to establish an independent national commission in accordance with the Paris Principles; to ratify all international human rights treaties; to respond favourably for request for visits to all Special Procedures; to extend standing invitation to the Special Procedures; to cease imprisoning conscientious objectors and to consider granting the right to conscientious objections to serve instead with a civilian body independent of the military; to establish a separate Juvenile Justice system to try Palestinian children; to remove restrictions that prevent Palestinian children from accessing basic services including schools and health care; and to accede to the ICC Rome Statute.

Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Egypt, France, Germany, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Jordan, Bahrain, Cuba, Canada, Chile, Qatar, Italy, Burkina Faso, Mexico, Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil, Japan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Nigeria and China.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Syria, Iran, Morocco, Yemen, Australia, Kuwait, Turkey, the Holy See, Austria, Palestine, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Spain, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Finland, Denmark, Latvia, Ireland, the Maldives, Sudan, Romania, Greece, Guatemala and Tunisia.

The eight-person delegation of Israel consisted of representatives of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Israel are the Republic of Korea, Azerbaijan and Nigeria.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Israel can be found here.

Adoption of report on Luxembourg: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Luxembourg are Canada, Slovenia and Bangladesh. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) delegation from all regions actively participated in the report of Luxembourg. The troika looked forward to Luxembourg’s responses to the recommendations put forth in the report. Representing the State under review, JEAN FEYDER, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the UN Office at Geneva, said the delegation of Luxembourg appreciated the quality and frankness of the dialogue. Luxembourg would duly inform the Human Rights Council of its views and responses to the various recommendations which resulted from that dialogue.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Israel on Tuesday, 9 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations byLiechtenstein after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Barbados.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp  

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