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Questions presented to Israel during the UN Universal Periodic Review

Having entertained the thought that it might be able to get away with a 22-page report without one single word on the situation of the Palestinian population in the occupied Palestinian territories (Gaza Strip, West Bank and the illegally annexed East Jerusalem), the Human Rights Council of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) has just gone through in the last weeks and only a negligible number of countries have found it appropriate to submit questions in advance regarding the content and scope of Israel’s national report. The report submitted by Israel and the questions presented in advance by other states, inter alia, is available on the Human Rights Council’s Extranet – that anyone can sign up for openly and free of charge.

So far, the documentation available from the meeting on Israel, under the Third Session of the first cycle of the UPR (which is concurrently being assessed in a workshop organized by the Swiss) are the national report submitted by Israel to the UPR mechanism in September 2008, the summaries and information compiled and provided by the Human Rights Council to the other state delegates and the questions submitted in advance to the UPR bodies in advance of the sessions.

It is worth mentioning some of the more interesting interventions, such as that of the Cuban delegation, admiringly submitted questions regarding the steps taken by Israel to abide by the ICJ’s Wall Opinion, to cease the “continued Israeli policy of illegal settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories”, and to provide reparations and conduct a public investigation into the attacks on Beit Hanoun of November 2006 where grave war crimes were committed.

The UK’s questions were slightly less direct, and in some ways targeting the root of the problematic in Israel’s approach to the particular review cycle of the UN Human Rights Council spotlighting the submission of a 22-page report that did not mention either the OPT or the occupation in any other way throughout the whole document. More specifically, the UK questioned the role that civil society played in the preparation of the report and whether there were any contributions made to the process by such actors. Interestingly, it chose to focus particularly on the protection of prisoners’ right to a fair trial and family visitation, detention conditions and torture in detention and during interrogations. One of the most direct and numbing questions regard the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank and the tangible actions Israel is taking to improve this situation. This approach can be taken to adhere to the unequivocal position of international law according to which the territories, both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, remain under the Israeli military occupation regime and Israel, as a belligerent occupant, is therefore obliged to comply with its obligations under IHL and IHRL towards the protected civilian population.

Denmark, the Netherlands and Latvia were the only others to submit questions in advance that concern mostly some more specific queries with regard to the situation in the region. The statements made during the Working Group, other statements not delivered during the working groups due to time constraints, the report of the Working Group and the decision following the consideration of the outcome in the plenary meeting are all due to be uploaded in the upcoming weeks.

It is very much hoped that despite the indisputable, unequivocal and at times possibly even rhetorical nature of the interventions made by a limited but interesting sample of  state actors, the process is going to reap more fruit than would usually be expected of similar rather desensitised, and under-demanding, forums. Equally, those states that are due not to receive an adequate response to their concerns in the constrained forum of the UPR should of course be urged to pursue them outside and beyond the UN’s halls.

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