UN body asked to up scrutiny of Israel’s human rights record

GENEVA (AP) — Member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are calling on the U.N. Human Rights Council to set up a permanent commission to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

The move comes in the wake of the latest surge in violence in the Israel-Palestinians conflict. If passed, it would mark an unprecedented level of scrutiny authorized by the U.N.’s top human rights body.

The proposal, formally presented late Tuesday, comes ahead of a special session of the Geneva-based council on Thursday to address “the grave human rights situation” in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The meeting was sought by Pakistan, as the OIC’s coordinator.

The session at the 47-member-state rights body paves the way for a daylong debate over the recent deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Mideast conflict that has raged for decades.

A vote on the draft resolution was likely at the end of Thursday’s session, which will be largely virtual. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet was set to address the meeting in person.

The draft resolution calls on the council to “urgently establish an ongoing independent, international commission of inquiry” appointed by the council president to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Israel and Palestinian areas.

The commission would also investigate “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict” including discrimination and repression, the text said.

A commission of inquiry is the highest level of scrutiny that the council can authorize. Another COI, for example, has been regularly reporting on Syria’s war nearly since its inception a decade ago — partially in hopes of collecting evidence that could be used in court one day.

Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said passage of the draft resolution would mark the first time that a commission of inquiry received a “continuing mandate.”

Israel — backed at times by the United States — accuses the council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators. Israel’s ambassador, Meirav Eilon Shahar, has called on member states to oppose Thursday’s meeting.

The special session is the 30th at the council, and the ninth on the issue of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” alone — the last was in May 2018. The council’s most recent special session, on Myanmar, was held in February.

The United States, under President Donald Trump, quit the council in mid-2018 — partially over his administration’s allegations that the council has an anti-Israel bias. President Joe Biden has returned the U.S. to participation, and the U.S. plans to seek a seat next year.

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