On Tuesday 29th of January, it was Israel’s turn for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). For this eagerly awaited session, the room was fully packed, a sign of interest but also of concern for the future of the UPR, owing to the unprecedented nature of this event. Even the security guards grabbed earphones to listen to what was being said!

Without surprise, Israel did not attend the scheduled review of its human rights record, as they had announced that they had ended all cooperation with the HRC and the OHCHR, thus becoming the very first country to refuse participation with the UPR process since the implementation of this mechanism in 2008.

The President of the Human Rights Council (HRC) therefore made a suggestion to reschedule the UPR of Israel in a later session this year and at the latest in the 17th session of the UPR Working Group in November 2013.
In the meantime, he would keep taking the necessary measures to urge the State under review to resume its participation in and cooperation with the UPR mechanism.

The decision also stipulates that this approach will be considered as a precedent to be applied to all similar circumstances.

The HRC Member States found minimal consensus in the President’s proposal and accepted this resolution to postpone Israel’s review, but it was not without reticence, as they were very numerous in deeply regretting the absence of the Israeli delegation and urging Israel to resume its participation in the process.

The important role of the President of the HRC in urging the member State to resume its cooperation with the UPR mechanism is very valuable, as the objective of the review is that the member State is present in its own session and that there is a cooperative review of the human rights situation with constructive recommendations from all Member States.

WILPF has been warning of the danger of setting a precedent for non-cooperative States which would open a door for delaying the process or even jeopardising it, depending on the final outcome of this situation which is still to be clarified.

However, this does not mean that this case should be the precedent for future cases of non-cooperation. Now that a legal lacuna has been identified on how to deal with cases of non-cooperation, a discussion should be opened at the HRC as suggested by the GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries) and the African Group. The established mechanism should be concrete and firm as to encourage Member States not to abandon the UPR process, as was suggested in WILPF’s statement. This conversation should be taken away from geo-strategic interests and this particular case and be brought to a neutral discussion on the process within the HRC.

In the concern of respecting the principle of equality of treatment, Israel’s UPR must not be indefinitely delayed and a clear message must be sent that, should they decide not to resume its cooperation, the review will take place without their participation and a date should be set by the HRC as soon as possible. Furthermore, civil society should be given the opportunity to update their reports so that they are not obsolete owing to this delay.

The question that remains now is: what is going to happen at the 17th session of the UPR Working Group if Israel does not show up? Will its review be postponed once again? Or will it be upheld ‘in absentia’? The decision taken by the HRC last Tuesday is simply not clear on this.