US quits UN human rights council – 'a cesspool of political bias'
Nikki Haley says council is ‘protector of human rights abusers’ that targets Israel in particular and ignores atrocities elsewhere
The US is withdrawing from the United Nations human rights council, the Trump administration announced on Tuesday, calling it a “cesspool of political bias” that targets Israel in particular while ignoring atrocities in other countries.
The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said she had travelled to the council’s headquarters in Geneva a year ago to call for reforms, to no avail.
“Regrettably it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley told reporters at the state department. “Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council.”
She added: “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny and the council continues politicising and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.”
“For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.”
The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, expressed regret about the US withdrawal. The organisation’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a tweet: “Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
Haley argued the US had spent a year in pursuit of reforms while the council’s flaws deepened. She pointed to the election of the Democratic Republic of Congo to council membership in the past year, despite the US reform campaign, as proof that the body could not be fixed. She also noted the council had failed to hold a single session on Venezuela, which is a council member, or Iran, despite its ruthless crushing of opposition demonstrations.
“When a so-called human rights council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” the ambassador said.
Haley also pointed to the continued existence of “agenda item 7”, a permanent fixture on the schedule, exclusively devoted to the discussion of rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said the US decision to leave was “regrettable”.
Johnson, who had called on Monday for agenda item 7 to be reformed, said in a statement: “The United States’ decision to withdraw from the human rights council is regrettable.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact that the UK wants to see reform of the human rights council, but we are committed to working to strengthen the council from within,” the foreign secretary added.
However, Haley criticised countries that expressed concern about the council but remained members, suggesting those countries lacked courage. “Almost every country we met with agrees with us, in principle and behind closed doors, that the human rights council needs major dramatic, systemic changes. Yet no other country has had the courage to join our fight,” she said.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley, said: “Too many commitments have gone unfulfilled. President Trump wants to move the ball forward. From day one he has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another, and that’s precisely the problem at the human rights council.”
The Trump administration had been signalling its intention to leave the council for some months, but the announcement came while the US itself is under intense criticism for its own human rights, because of the administration’s policy of forcibly separating young children from their parents when apprehended on the Mexican border.
“Trump’s withdrawal is especially disturbing given his persistent praise for despots and dictators with abysmal human rights records, not to mention his administration’s cruel mistreatment of immigrant families seeking asylum,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
Advocacy groups accused the US of withdrawing from its global obligations to protect human rights.
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said.
“The UN human rights council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel. Like last time when the US government stepped away from the Council for similar reasons, other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure the Council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”