The State Department is using misleading statistics to make the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) seem less anti-Israel than it truly is, according to a leading watchdog of the international body.
The HRC was put under the microscope this week on Capitol Hill during a Human Rights Commission hearing that examined its first 10 years of existence, which has been marred by anti-Israel bias and membership by some of the world's worst human rights abusers.
The HRC was founded in 2006, but the Bush administration withdrew from the body in hopes of starving it of legitimacy. That policy was reversed by the Obama administration in 2009. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the administration "believed [it] could make a difference by working with [the council] on the inside rather than standing on the outside merely as a critic."
Seven years later, the State Department is trying to prove that the 2009 decision has improved the council and made it less anti-Israel.
While acknowledging that the council remains an "imperfect body" with a "strong bias against Israel," the State Department's Erin Barclay testified to Congress that the hyper-focus on Israel has greatly decreased since 2009.
"Prior to our joining the HRC, over one-half of all country-specific resolutions the council adopted concerned Israel," Barclay said. "Today, about one-fifth of the HRC's country resolutions deal with the Palestinian territories."
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Watch, testified after Barclay and said that the statistic she used was "entirely inconsistent" with numbers calculated by his group.
"We heard the number in the first panel that one-fifth of the resolutions deal with Israel," Neuer said. "These are entirely inconsistent with the numbers that we count quite scrupulously."
"The State Department seems to be counting all country resolutions and that is not a meaningful metric," Neuer said. "When we count we look at condemnations—how many condemnations of Israel versus condemnations of other countries."
The reason counting country resolutions is meaningless, according to Neuer, is because many of the country resolutions are undeserved praise.
"There are country resolutions that entirely praise those countries," Neuer said. "For example, there was a resolution on Sudan that 'welcomed the commitment of the government of Sudan to protect and promote human rights in the country.'"
Sudan is rated "not free" by human rights watchdog Freedom House due to its highly repressive government and its lack of free elections. Just this month, Sudanese security forces responded to peaceful student protests with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition.
"It is not meaningful to count all country resolutions—especially ones that praise dictatorships," Neuer said.
A U.N. Watch count shows that the HRC has issued more condemnations of Israel than it has issued for all other countries combined.
U.N. Watch supports the decision by the United States to engage with the council in an attempt to improve it, but Neuer said he fears it will become an "apologist" for the council.
"U.N. Watch supports robust engagement to try and make the council work, but at the same time we think that it's important that the U.S. not find itself in a position that it becomes an apologist for the council's worst abuses," Neuer said. "We appreciate engagement—we support it—but it should not be at the expense of critical engagement."