By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Israel is expected to boycott a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council next week despite the United States urging its ally to show up for an examination of its record, the U.S. ambassador said on Thursday.
The Jewish state is scheduled to be in the dock of the Geneva rights forum on Tuesday, Jan. 29 as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, the council’s regular scrutiny of all United Nations member states.
“They (Israeli officials) signalled that they want it postponed. It is very unlikely they will participate on the 29th,” Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. human rights ambassador, told reporters in Geneva.
If the review goes ahead, Israel would likely face criticism for its practices in the Palestinian territories, including treatment of detainees, settlement expansion and its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip which Palestinians say is collective punishment of the enclave’s 1.6 million residents.
Arab states would be expected to denounce Israel’s deadly air strikes on Hamas-ruled Gaza last November, launched with the declared aim of ending rocket barrages.
Israel’s last review was in December 2008, when it attended. A boycott would be unprecedented and diplomats fear other countries might follow suit to avoid scrutiny of their own human rights records.
Israel suspended relations with the council last May because of what it called an inherent bias against it, and has informally told the council’s president that it wants the session postponed, a U.N. spokesman said.
“A decision will be taken in the event Israel does not show up for its UPR, the council will decide on a course of action. States are working very hard behind the scenes to come up with a solution,” council spokesman Rolando Gomez told Reuters.
A team of U.N. investigators, set up by the council last year, is due to report soon on whether Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories violate international human rights law. Washington cast the only vote against the initiative brought by the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinians said on Wednesday they would complain about Israel to the International Criminal Court if the Jewish state proceeds with plans to build housing on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
“We see a strong bias against Israel that has not gone away,” U.S. Ambassador Donahoe said.
“We have encouraged Israel to come to the UPR, to tell its story, to present its own narrative of its human rights situation. We think it is a good opportunity to do that.” (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Roche and Robin Pomeroy)