WASHINGTON (JTA) – The U.N. Human Rights Council drew rare praise from Jewish groups for creating a position for a special rapporteur on Iran.
"Following the recent suspension of Libya’s membership in the Human Rights Council, this vote on Iran conveys another strong message that the Geneva-based body is beginning to wake up from its lethargy and look seriously at some significant violators of human rights, such as Libya and Iran," the American Jewish Committee said March 24 after the council voted 22-7, with 14 abstentions, to create the position. "American leadership has been critical to this change."
B’nai B’rith International also praised the move away from the council’s reputation as obsessively focused on Israel.
"It is encouraging to see the council can in fact see beyond Israel," B’nai B’rith said in a statement. "It is significant that the Human Rights Council members, some voting outside their traditional lines of support, are taking Iran’s escalating human rights abuses seriously."
Iranian-American groups also praised the vote, which Iran has dismissed as an American manipulation.
"This concrete measure sends a powerful message to the government of Iran that the world will not turn a blind eye to its human rights violations," the National Iranian American Council said in a statement.
The only other Human Rights Council special rapporteur addresses Palestinian issues in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The council also drew praise from a prominent Jewish congressman, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), for rejecting efforts to pass a "defamation of religions" resolution.
Such resolutions have proliferated in international bodies in recent years. Western nations led by the United States, as well as Jewish and human rights groups, claim the resolutions seek to validate laws against "blasphemy" under the guise of protecting rights of religious expression.
Engel noted that the council on March 24 instead adopted a resolution that opposed religious intolerance.
"The UNHRC took a giant step away from intolerance by adopting a resolution focused on protecting individuals’ rights to freedom of religion and expression rather than religions’ rights being spared any criticism,” he said in a statement. “We must guarantee people’s rights to believe and speak out on those beliefs, rather than condemning those who do not hold an accepted view of a particular religion or belief.”
Separately, an Israeli was appointed to a Human Rights Council subcommittee for the first time. Frances Raday will be one of five women on a working group examining discrimination against women under the law.