The UN human rights chief urged on Tuesday Israel’s far-right ruling coalition to halt a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary, saying it might undermine the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.
“These changes risk weakening human rights protections for all, but especially the most vulnerable communities and groups less able to vindicate their rights,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.
The call came hours after two bills, which represent the first move in the government’s proposed far-reaching changes to the judiciary system, passed in their first reading in the 120-seat parliament with 63 in favor, 47 against and 10 absent.
The coalition could now bring the two bills for the final second and third readings in the parliament, after which they will become laws to kick-start the reform.
One bill would alter the composition of the nine-member committee that appoints judges, limiting the influence of legal professionals and giving the government an outright majority. If approved, the law would enable the government to choose judges.
The other one would eliminate the Supreme Court’s authority to cancel basic laws passed by the parliament, even if they are unconstitutional.
The plans “pose serious risks to the effectiveness of the judiciary to defend the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence,” Turk said in the statement.
Vast demonstrations, in which tens of thousands of Israelis took streets to protest against the judicial reforms, “illustrate the extent of public disquiet with the proposed changes,” he added.
“Changes going to the heart of a country’s long-standing constitutional structure, and which affect well-established institutional safeguards, should only be undertaken following extensive consultation and with broad political and public consensus,” the UN official noted. ■