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February 20, 2014 11:21 am

In UN Speech, Israeli Ambassador Challenges Middle East Countries on Rule of Law

avatar by Joshua Levitt

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Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor. Photo: Screenshot.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor. Photo: Screenshot.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday addressed the UN Security Council on the “Rule of Law,” challenging Israel’s Middle Eastern neighbors to end their human rights abuses.

“In too many parts of the Middle East, the rule of law is not used to protect and defend citizens, but rather to discriminate against them,” Prosor said, according to a transcript. “Across the Middle East and North Africa, nations are sinking under the crippling weight of corruption, tyranny, and inequality.”

Ambassador Prosor asked the Security Council to consider the question: “If one of you were put on trial and had to pick which legal system in the Middle East would hear your case, which nation would you choose? I suspect you would select Israel where you are guaranteed your day in court as opposed to our neighbors where the judicial system is nothing short of a nightmare.”

“In a region known for intolerance and repression, Israel stands out for its commitment to the rule of law,” he said. “Our Declaration of independence ensures that the majority governs while minorities enjoy equal rights. In fact, our Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East.”

Prosor called on the Security Council to support the rule of law around the world: “A society cannot be truly free until its citizens have the right to challenge the status quo and openly speak their minds. This Council should do everything in its power to support the brave few who live and die by these ideals.”

He also called out some of Israel’s neighbors by name, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and railed against their human rights abuses.

On women’s rights, he said: “In Saudi Arabia, women need a guardian’s permission to marry, take classes and travel. It is also the only country in the world that bans women from driving a car.  Not long ago, a few brave women defied the ban and were detained by police and fined for the so-called crime of tarnishing the Kingdom’s reputation. Tarnishing the Kingdom’s reputation?  The real stain on the Kingdom is its failure to recognize that by relegating half of its population to the backseat, Saudi Arabia is being steered off course.”

“In addition to upholding draconian laws that marginalize their civilians, the judiciary systems in many Arab nations subject women to unspeakable injustice and violence. Syria and Iraq’s legal systems allow rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victims while Iranian women are arrested, beaten and even mutilated with acid for not conforming to the regime’s so-called ‘moral code.'”

On religious freedom in Iran, he said: “This past summer, three Iranian Christians were found guilty of ‘crimes against state security’ and sentenced to 10 years in prison. And what was the terrible crime that threatened Iran’s security? The three Christians were selling bibles. Iran abuses its judicial system to deny its citizens due process and subject prisoners to inhumane and degrading punishments such as lashings and executions.  In 2013, 624 people were executed in Iran, many in secret. Just a few weeks ago the regime hanged a poet for criticizing the regime’s treatment of minorities.”

On sexual freedom, abrogating the human rights of gays, Prosor said: “Nation after nation in the Middle East mercilessly persecutes its citizens and seeks to mandate what they should believe, how they should act, and who they can love. In Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria the penalty for being gay is imprisonment while in Yemen and Iran, the penalty is death.”

He described the difference between these Middle Eastern countries and Israel: “The character of a society can be assessed by its commitment to a system of laws that both protect and liberate its citizens. Insecure tyrannies deny their citizens the security of an impartial judiciary. Israel, on the other hand, understands that the rule of law is key to unlocking opportunity. By ensuring its citizens enjoy freedom and empowerment, Israel has built a thriving, prosperous and robust society. And while these freedoms present real challenges to our security, Israel is secure in the knowledge that the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs.”

Prosor concluded by describing people faced with hard choices, but who decide to maintain their standards of supporting and defending human rights, even in tough situations: “Somewhere there is a soldier who knows he is outnumbered and outgunned, but stands tall at his post. Somewhere there is a police officer who refuses to take a bribe even as he struggles to feed his family. Somewhere there is a peaceful protester raising her voice against oppression, knowing the consequences will be grave. These men and women are willing to risk their lives because they believe that every person deserves freedom and dignity. They are role models for us all.  Let us be inspired by their courage; let us be driven by their strength; and let us strive to be worthy guardians of their ideals.”

On Tuesday, Prosor was unanimously nominated to chair a UN Human Rights Committee election, with 170 countries voting in favor, including members of the Arab bloc. The selection of Israel’s representative to chair the vote, which was for one of the 18 positions on the Committee, was the latest sign of progress for Israel at the UN, coming shortly after Israel rejoined the Human Rights Council, in Geneva, and just days after Israel was admitted into JUSCANZ, the UN’s core coordinating group on human rights.

The elections to the Human Rights Committee, not to be confused with the more high-profile Human Rights Council, happen once every two years. The Human Rights Committee is a treaty-based mechanism where a group of experts examines reports and rules on individual communications pertaining only to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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