AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights (JBI) convened a meeting of key UN human rights leaders and staff members together with experts on antisemitism from around the world.

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, who co- convened the meeting, lamented the “scandalous lack of attention” paid by the UN human rights system to antisemitism and pledged to address the issue under his mandate.

Addressing the group, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein affirmed that the UN’s human rights expert mechanisms have historically “underserved” victims of antisemitism and called on the UN system to “do its part” to rectify the problem. 

“This consultation was conceived as an important first step towards addressing a longstanding lack of familiarity, and even alienation, between organizations concerned with combating antisemitism around the world and the UN’s human rights mechanisms,” said JBI Director Felice Gaer.

Participants in the unprecedented meeting, held in Geneva on June 28, included Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC’s Director of International Jewish Affairs, who also is the Personal Representative on Combating Antisemitism for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s Coordinator on Combating Antisemitism.

Many participants called on UN human rights experts to take steps such as adopting and applying the Working Definition of antisemitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in UN human rights reports to more effectively address contemporary manifestations of antisemitism.

The antisemitism experts also discussed the methodological approaches they employ in their work and provided examples of antisemitism in their countries. JBI Director Gaer reflected on how to address antisemitism within a traditional human rights framework and encouraged UN staff to consider devoting more attention to the upsurge in antisemitic incidents in recent years. Participants affirmed the need for UN human rights experts to speak out about governments’ obligations to adopt proactive measures to prevent and combat antisemitism.

UN human rights staff members in attendance urged the antisemitism experts to share their data with the UN and sought guidance from the experts on how to reach out more effectively to Jewish communities, particularly those living in countries that are visited by the experts.

“Notwithstanding the fact that representatives of many UN Member States, acting through the UN’s political bodies, regularly adopt resolutions and take other actions demonstrating overwhelming bias against Israel and hostility toward Jews, its independent human rights experts must nevertheless be reminded to devote appropriate attention to antisemitism,” said Gaer. “We are grateful to Dr. Ahmed Shaheed for expressing a desire to address antisemitism as a human rights issue in his new role as UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and for seeking the assistance of antisemitism experts in this effort.”

Shaheed, whose renewable three-year term as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief began in November 2016, reports annually to the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council, undertakes missions to many countries, and communicates with governments about cases of possible violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief. He is the Deputy Director of the Essex Human Rights Centre in the United Kingdom and previously served as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran and as Foreign Minister of the Maldives.

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