Rule of Law
Delivered to the Security Council by Ambassador Ron Prosor on 19 February 2014
Thank you, Madame President.
The presence of Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson brings awareness and attention to this important subject.
In December 2010, a Tunisian police officer confiscated the cart of a young street vendor. This same young man had been harassed by local officials for years. Instead of upholding the law, the police demanded a bribe to return the cart. Humiliated, distraught and denied legal recourse, the young man went to the headquarters of the provincial government and lit himself on fire.
This young Tunisian became a symbol for the men and women in the Arab world who long for freedom. Tens of millions of people understood the desperation felt by that young vendor because they too live in a society without an honest judiciary, an independent media and free elections.
Across the Middle East and North Africa, nations are sinking under the crippling weight of corruption, tyranny, and inequality. Mahatma Gandhi famously said (and I quote): “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
In too many parts of the Middle East, the rule of law is not used to protect and defend citizens, but rather to discriminate against them. Women are denied the opportunity to make decisions about their future such as getting an education, pursuing a profession, earning money and choosing how to spend it.
In Saudi Arabia, women need a guardian’s permission to marry, take classes and travel. It is also the only country in the world that bans women from driving a car. Not long ago, a few brave women defied the ban and were detained by police and fined for the so-called crime of tarnishing the Kingdom’s reputation.
Tarnishing the Kingdom’s reputation? The real stain on the Kingdom is its failure to recognize that by relegating half of its population to the backseat, Saudi Arabia is being steered off course.
In addition to upholding draconian laws that marginalize their civilians, the judiciary systems in many Arab nations subject women to unspeakable injustice and violence. Syria and Iraq’s legal systems allow rapists to avoid punishment by marrying their victims while Iranian women are arrested, beaten and even mutilated with acid for not conforming to the regime’s so-called "moral code.”
This past summer, three Iranian Christians were found guilty of “crimes against state security” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. And what was the terrible crime that threated Iran’s security? The three Christians were selling bibles.
Iran abuses its judicial system to deny its citizens due process and subject prisoners to inhumane and degrading punishments such as lashings and executions. In 2013, 624 people were executed in Iran, many in secret. Just a few weeks ago the regime hanged a poet for criticizing the regime’s treatment of minorities.
Nation after nation in the Middle East mercilessly persecutes its citizens and seeks to mandate what they should believe, how they should act, and who they can love. In Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria the penalty for being gay is imprisonment while in Yemen and Iran, the penalty is death.
In a region known for intolerance and repression, Israel stands out for its commitment to the rule of law. Our Declaration of Independence ensures that the majority governs while minorities enjoy equal rights. In fact, our Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East.
While most nations in the region relegate women to the margins of society, Israeli women are leaders in every field and discipline from courtrooms to classrooms and from operating rooms to boardrooms. More than forty years ago, Golda Meir became Israel’s Prime Minister – making my country just the third in the world to elect a woman to its highest office.
Israel’s commitment to the free exchange of ideas has made it a destination of choice for reporters, academics and human rights activists. They know that they can speak freely without fear of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and execution.
If one of you were put on trial and had to pick which legal system in the Middle East would hear your case, which nation would you choose? I suspect you would select Israel where you are guaranteed your day in court as opposed to our neighbors where the judicial system is nothing short of a nightmare.
Israel’s commitment to freedom means that the burden of condemnation falls disproportionately on Israel. It also means that our struggle to combat terrorism is made more difficult because of our determination to respect the rule of law. As former Israeli Chief Justice, Aharon Barak said, “…a democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back. Even so, the democracy has the upper hand.”
The character of a society can be assessed by its commitment to a system of laws that both protect and liberate its citizens. Insecure tyrannies deny their citizens the security of an impartial judiciary.
Israel, on the other hand, understands that the rule of law is key to unlocking opportunity. By ensuring its citizens enjoy freedom and empowerment, Israel has built a thriving, prosperous and robust society. And while these freedoms present real challenges to our security, Israel is secure in the knowledge that the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs.
A society cannot be truly free until its citizens have the right to challenge the status quo and openly speak their minds. This Council should do everything in its power to support the brave few who live and die by these ideals.
Somewhere there is a soldier who knows he is outnumbered and outgunned, but stands tall at his post. Somewhere there is a police officer who refuses to take a bribe even as he struggles to feed his family. Somewhere there is a peaceful protestor raising her voice against oppression, knowing the consequences will be grave.
These men and women are willing to risk their lives because they believe that every person deserves freedom and dignity. They are role models for us all. Let us be inspired by their courage; let us be driven by their strength; and let us strive to be worthy guardians of their ideals.
Thank you, Madame President.