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Israel boycotts UN rights scrutiny session

Jan. 29, 2013 4:32 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2013 10:51 P.M.)
GENEVA (Reuters) -- Israel boycotted a United Nations human rights forum on Tuesday where it was due to have its record reviewed, setting a precedent feared by many Western and other states.

The current president of the Human Rights Council, Poland's ambassador Remigiusz Henczel, noted the absence of the Israeli delegation and ordered the meeting suspended briefly to decide how to proceed.

He called it "an important issue and unprecedented situation", inviting comment by the council's 47 members as well as observer states.

Israel, which would be expected to face criticism for its practices in the Palestinian territories, suspended relations with the council last May because of what it called an inherent bias against it.

Israel's last review was in December 2008, when it attended. Diplomats said last week that they feared an unprecedented boycott would lead other countries to follow suit to avoid scrutiny of their human rights records.

"As the only recalcitrant state among 193, Israel's deliberate absence would sabotage the principle of universality," Peter Splinter, Geneva representative of Amnesty International to the UN in Geneva, said in a blog on Tuesday.

Meanwhile 15 Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations warned of the far-reaching consequences of Israel’s refusal to fully cooperate with the United Nations.

"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," the groups said in a statement.

US human rights ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, speaking to reporters last week, said of the US ally: "We have encouraged Israel to come to the UPR, to tell its story, to present its own narrative of its human rights situation. We think it is a good opportunity to do that."

A team of UN investigators, set up by the council last year, is due to report soon on whether Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories violate international human rights law.

The initiative was brought to the 47-member forum by the Palestinian Authority. Israel's ally the United States was the only member to vote against it.

The council said Israel's planned construction of new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem undermined the peace process and posed a threat to the two-state solution and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel's Foreign Ministry condemned the decision at the time, saying: "The establishment of this mission is another blatant expression of the singling out of Israel in the UNHRC."

The Ministry also vowed that Israel would not cooperate with the fact-finding mission will and will not allow its members to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report.
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