April 8, 2024 | Flash Brief

UN Human Rights Council Calls for Arms Embargo on Israel

April 8, 2024 | Flash Brief

UN Human Rights Council Calls for Arms Embargo on Israel

Latest Developments

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on April 5 passed a resolution that calls upon all states “to cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel.” It further calls for an existing UN Commission of Inquiry to report on these transfers and to analyze their “legal consequences.” The measure passed with 28 votes in favor, six votes against (including the United States), and 13 abstentions. The resolution explicitly calls for an arms embargo on Israel. Since 2018, the UNHRC has repeatedly called for an arms embargo implicitly by accusing Israel of violating international law and then calling on countries to ensure they do not provide arms that could be used in those violations. In February 2024, a group of UN rapporteurs also called for an arms embargo on Israel.

The UNHRC passed three other measures directed at Israel on April 5 with considerable overlap among them. One criticized Israel for impinging upon the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.” Another censured Israel for building communities in disputed territories under its control. And the third castigated Israel for alleged human rights violations in the Golan Heights, calling for Israel to relinquish the territory and its people to the Assad regime, which has murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. All three of these resolutions call upon states to undertake efforts to dislodge Israel from these territories.

Expert Analysis

“This is theater of the absurd, not a condemnation to be taken seriously in the slightest. This body, which whitewashes the sins of the world’s worst human rights abusers, has a years-long record of antisemitism. This vote is merely a reminder of why the United States should not be a member of the UN Human Rights Council.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“The Human Rights Council has become the Hamas Rights Council. By trying to prevent Israel from defending itself against a genocidal terrorist group, the council is rewarding Hamas’s strategy of harming Israelis and Palestinians and encouraging it not to compromise in ceasefire negotiations.” — David May, FDD Research Manager and Senior Research Analyst

A ‘Stain for the Human Rights Council’

Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Meirav Eilon Shahar called the arms embargo resolution “a stain for the Human Rights Council and for the UN as a whole.” U.S. Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Michèle Taylor said the United States was “deeply concerned by its many problematic elements, too many to name in full.” Taylor elaborated that “the text makes no distinction between [Israeli] hostages who were brutally abducted by a terrorist organization that heeds no international law” and Palestinian “detainees whose fate is regulated and governed by legal processes.” The resolution also makes no mention of Hamas and calls for an immediate ceasefire, which would allow the Iran-backed terrorist group that launched the war to remain in power.

The UNHRC resolution uses the International Court of Justice’s interim determination of a “plausible risk of genocide in Gaza” as a basis for promoting an arms embargo, though many experts have noted that plausibility is a relatively low bar. The resolution also attempts to head off accusations of antisemitism stemming from its disproportionate focus on alleged crimes committed by the Jewish state, claiming that its “criticism … should not be conflated with antisemitism.”

UNHRC Bias Against Israel

Though the UNHRC passed the arms embargo resolution under Agenda Item 2, which deals with UN human rights reports generically, it passed the other Israel-focused resolutions under Agenda Item 7, which is dedicated exclusively to scrutinizing Israel. No other country is subject to its own UNHRC agenda item. This has contributed to the council’s passage of more resolutions targeting Israel than the world’s top human rights violators combined. The UNHRC also maintains a special rapporteur dedicated to scrutinizing Israel, the only such rapporteur with an open-ended mandate.

The Urgent Need for UN Reform,” by Alan Goldsmith

10 Things to Know About the UN and Hamas,” FDD Insight

How to Keep Antisemitism Away From Turtle Bay,” by David May and Richard Goldberg

United Nations’ Bigotry Towards Israel: UNRWA Anti-semitism Poisons Palestinian Youth,” by Jonathan Schanzer


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