Prof. Yuval Shany, an Israeli jurist of international renown, made history by being elected on Monday as the first Israeli to chair the UN Human Rights Council.
The HRC is a professional non-political body , composed of 18 independent law experts defined as “of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights” according to its website, that examines objectively the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. .
Shany, a former dean of law faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was appointed member of the committee, that meets three times a year in Geneva, in 2013. He was the second Israeli member ever in the committee and the first since David Kretzmer, a law professor and human rights activist who helped found the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (1972).
Speaking with TPS Shany said his main goal as new chairman of the committee is to increase the number of countries that report their human rights conditions “ I will work hard to increase the visibility and efficiency of the committee and hope that also those countries that do not report to UN will decide to do so. I will focus especially on the southern hemisphere,” he said
Shany’s selection comes both in light of long-standing grim relations between UN and Israel, as well as some indications of a thaw in recent months. Israel announced in December 2017 that it would leave the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) following a long string of anti-Israel decisions by the group. That move was followed by the United States’ decision to pull out of the UN Human Rights Commission last month, citing the Commission’s consistent anti-Israel bias.
On the other hand, the election of Prof. Shany and the attendance of Israeli representatives at last month’s UNESCO annual meeting in Bahrain, where the world body shelved, at least temporarily, pending decisions to grant official recognition of proposal to the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron as “Palestinian” heritage sites, and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron as an “endangered” heritage site are likely an olive branch by the organization in an attempt to convince Jerusalem to reconsider bolting the group.
“I hope my election is a sign both to UN and Israel that through collaboration Israelis can contribute to the UN. It is certainly a sign of hope,” he said.