US quits UN rights body for being a club with rights abusers

U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley. (Photo courtesy: The Santiago Times)
U.S. envoy to the UN Nikki Haley. (Photo courtesy: The Santiago Times)

(, Jun21, 2018) – Lambasting “its chronic bias against Israel” and lamenting the fact that its members included human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States announced Jun 19 that it was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council. The move was criticized by major international human rights organizations while the UN rights chief has expressed disappointment.

Announcing the decision at the State Department, Nikki Haley, US Permanent Representative to the UN, said her government had given the council “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes. “Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” she has added.

“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” the AP Jun 20 quoted her as saying.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley, has said there was no doubt that the council once had a “noble vision”.

“But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo was quoted as saying, “the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”

UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has, on Twitter, spoken of being disappointed by the US move. “Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.” He has said.

Earlier, on Dec 20, 2017, al-Hussein that he would not run for the post after his current term ends this summer, saying his remaining on it had become untenable.

The US move is also seen as extending a broader pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.

Haley has suggested, however, that the US decision need not be permanent, adding that if the council did adopt reforms, “we would be happy to rejoin it”. She has added that although withdrawing, the US would continue to defend human rights at the United Nations.

The US decision was swiftly opposed by human rights advocates. A group of 12 organizations, including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association-USA, has said there were “legitimate concerns” about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a US exit.

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” the organizations have said in a joint statement.

The United States’ current term on the council ends next year. Although it could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, the report cited a US official as saying it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately”.

The US pullout is seen as having ripple effects for at least two countries at the council: China and Israel. The US, as at other UN organizations, is Israel’s biggest defender. Also, at the rights council, the United States has been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China — whose growing economic and diplomatic clout has chastened some other would-be critics, the report cited rights advocates as saying.

The council is made up of 47 UN-member countries, elected by the UN’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a row.


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