The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique mechanism that intends to review the behavior of states without distinction. The UN General Assembly established it in 2006 as part of the functions of the Human Rights Council. It is a state-driven process to comprehensively assess a state`s compliance with human rights law. The Human Rights Council is to hold three two-week sessions each year during which time they review the files of sixteen member states. Accordingly each state will undergo the review every three years. As of 2011, all 193 UN member states had undergone a review.
The Human Rights Council conducted Israel`s UPR in 2009. In response to the findings, Israel`s ambassador to the UN explained that it took the Review process "very seriously" because it is "an opportunity for genuine introspection, and frank discussion within the Israeli system"
Israel`s second UPR is scheduled to take place in 2013. A coalition of Palestinian human rights organizations submitted their concise report on Israel`s violations between 2009 and 2012. This document will not be read, however, because Israel is boycotting the UPR, citing bias. In May 2012, Israel described the Human Rights Council as “a political tool and convenient platform, cynically used to advance certain political aims, to bash and demonize Israel.”
Israel`s condemnation of the Human Rights Council followed the body`s initiation of a fact-finding mission to investigate the impact of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Today, the Council released its report at a press conference in Geneva. It states that Isreal must cease all of its settlement activity "without preconditions" and "must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers", or face prosecution before the International Criminal Court. Sources in Geneva tell me that Israel`s threats of boycott aimed to derail the Council`s fact-finding mission`s report. Failing to do that, Israel unilaterally withdrew from its Universal Periodic Review all together.
This is not Israel`s first attack on the UN. It has cited bias in the past in response to the UN`s critique of its human rights violations, specifically after the World Conference Against Racism (2001); the International Court of Justice proceedings on the route of the Separation Barrier (2004); denial of entry to Special Rapporteur to the OPT, Richard Falk (2008); and its refusal to cooperate with the Human Rights Council`s fact-finding delegation to Gaza in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead (2009).
Israel is unique for its boycott, which evidences the tenuous nature of the voluntary compliance process. In fact, human rights advocates and governement officials worry that Israel will open the door to non-cooperation by other states. The battle for accountability continues even in the UN. Despite its acceptance of international law & human rights norms, even within the multilateral human rights body, the last word on human rights matters is political.