Israel defends rights record in return to UN spotlight

Israel defended its record before the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, marking an end to its 18-month boycott of the body over scrutiny of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"Our record is before you. It is not a perfect record," Israeli ambassador Eviator Manor told the council.

"Ensuring human rights is an ongoing process and Israel's appearance here is testimony to our daily effort to uphold the highest standards of human rights," he said.

Manor said Israel's fellow council members should remember the "difficult and complex security situation" it had faced since its foundation in 1948.

"Such challenges strain the delicate balance between the effective steps necessary to overcome the various threats to a state's security and the protection of human rights," he said.

He said that Israel had decided to attend the session despite "strong reservations", given what he described as the council's "one-sided" focus on his country in the past.

"Israel's unfair treatment must come to an end," Manor told the council, which is the United Nations' top human rights forum.

All 193 UN member states are meant to undergo a four-yearly "universal periodic review" of their human rights record.

Israel has come under widespread criticism for ramping up its construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank, including in annexed east Jerusalem.

Arab members of the council, along with Cuba and Venezuela, hit out at Israel on its settlement programme while Turkey criticised the "shameful situation" in the occupied Palestinian territories and the "impunity of settlers".

European countries also took Israel to task, with Britain saying it was "deeply concerned" about the situation in the territories.

Peter Mulrean, deputy ambassador of staunch Israeli ally the United States, praised a "strong commitment and track record in upholding human rights, political freedom and civil liberties".

But he also sounded a critical note, urging Israel to boost resources for Israeli Arab and Bedouin communities, and guard against the clout of Orthodox rabbis in determining policies that could discriminate against non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews.

The review process offers members a chance to quiz a country about its rights record and the steps taken to redress failings, but does not impose sanctions for those found at fault.

On January 29, Israel became the first country to boycott its turn in the spotlight.

It had cut ties with the council in March 2012 after the body said it would probe how Israeli settlements may be infringing on Palestinian rights.

Israel's decision to attend its review session reportedly came after Germany warned of a diplomatic backlash if it again stayed away.

Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi said Israel's presence showed it wanted to pick and choose when to accept scrutiny.

"I think that Israel only understands the language of pressure. So its presence today has no value," he said.