In first, Israeli elected to head UN human rights body

Yuval Shany,  former dean of Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law, was elected to chair a professional committee in the UN that deals with human rights issues.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Yuval Shany, professor of International Public Law at Hebrew University, was elected Monday to chair the United Nations Human Rights Committee. He is the first Israeli to hold the position.

Speaking to Army Radio Tuesday, Shany emphasized that the Geneva-based committee is not the infamous UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which has a “political orientation.”

The UNHRC is known for bashing Israel more than all the other countries of the world combined over alleged human rights abuses. The United States, in fact, recently withdrew from the council in protest of its refusal to cancel its unique Article 7, which calls for Israel to be discussed at every meeting.

“If I had a shekel for every time people got mixed up between the two bodies, my financial situation would be very different,” Shany joked.

Rather, he explained, the committee to which he was elected consists of human rights experts, including “18 jurists from all over the world, chosen by their countries, who work independently to monitor how countries meet the standards set by the International Human Rights Convention.”

When the leadership position opened up due to the current chairman’s departure in order to become a judge in the International Court in the Hague, Shany was chosen unanimously by his colleagues after serving among them for the last five years.

That an Israeli could be elected unopposed for such a position at the UN in the field of human rights, he said, “perhaps emphasizes the fact that this is a professional committee, where global politics plays a much more minor role and people are elected rather surprisingly due to their suitability for the position.”

Shany, former dean of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s faculty of law, is also vice president of the Center for Security and Democracy, which seeks to strengthen Israel’s democracy while under threat from outside forces, and of the Center for Democratic Values and Institutions, whose aim is to “strengthen the commitment of Israeli policymakers, opinion shapers and decision makers to the fundamental tenets of Israeli democracy, including freedom, equality, civil rights, separation of powers, transparency and the rule of law.”

Since the committee meets only three times a year, any one country – including Israel – appears before it only once every few years to defend its human rights record.