Announcing Britain’s candidacy for a three-year term on the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2020, the then Minister of State for Human Rights, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, rightly said that respect for human rights sits at the heart of the international system.
He declared that our Government fully supports the Council and the tools and mechanisms at its disposal [emphasis added]. If elected, it would work with all those who stand for the preservation of universal human rights and freedoms. The proud strapline on the UK’s official brochure read: “For everyone’s human rights, leaving no person behind.”
How hollow those words sound today.
After election to the Council, the UK voted against establishing an independent commission of inquiry into abuses committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel, led by the distinguished South African judge and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. The explanation was that Israel should not be singled out for exceptional scrutiny. But as John Major once said, if Israel wants to be treated as a Western democracy, it has to abide by the rules.
The commission’s first report shines light on the impunity and lack of accountability which have sustained and encouraged Israel’s persistent grave breaches of the human rights of Palestinians for decades.
The report demands a substantive response from our Government. The UK is committed by treaty to uphold the many human rights conventions that have been repeatedly breached by Israel. It cannot simply ignore the facts laid out so scrupulously. Laws apply to allies as well as to enemies.
Andrew Whitley, Chair of the Balfour Project, was a senior UN official in Palestine and the founding director of Human Rights Watch/Middle East and North Africa.