UN Human Rights Council
Accusing it of being a hypocritical “protector of human rights abusers,” the US has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, made the announcement in a scathing press conference in Washington, DC. “For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” she proclaimed.
Haley stated that the decision to pull out of the Geneva-based body followed her year-long effort to secure reforms in the council, which she said had failed.
Haley explained that the primary reasons for the pull-out were threefold. Firstly, she said, countries that abuse human rights continue to serve on and be elected to the council, most recently, for example, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Haley also said that the council was biased and selective in the countries that it targets and has failed, for example, to address human rights abuses in nations such as Venezuela and Iran.
Finally, the ambassador said the UNHRC has a “chronic bias against Israel” and “singles out Israel in a way that no other country is singled out.”
She claimed that in recent years the council had passed more resolutions against Israel than against North Korea, Iran, and Syria. “This disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.”
Haley said that despite the withdrawal, “this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments; on the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.”
Human Rights Watch said it was not surprised by the US government’s decision as it had been threatening to pull out of the body since President Trump came into office.
The organisation admitted that the UNHRC had its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – but “the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world.”
Human Rights Watch said that the UNHRC has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities and others from violence and discrimination.
The organisation noted the the US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, “and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.”
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
“By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”
LGBTQ group OutRight Action International said in a statement: “The US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is symptomatic of overall US isolationism and a move away from multilateral diplomacy.
“For many LGBTIQ people, the Human Rights Council and the United Nations as a whole are ports of last call when their own governments fail them.
“Withdrawing from the Council sends a message to other countries that its acceptable to walk away from the system when it doesn’t suit you to be there. Investing in multilateralism is not just integral to preserving and progressing human rights, it is essential to promoting peace and security,” said the organisation.
South Africa’s Ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, described the American decision as “tragic for the people of the US…” She said: “No country ever gets 100% of all its wishes and desires. Mature leadership takes this as a given and works with it rather than desert the field.”
The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. It has played a key role as a watchdog for LGBT rights around the world.