Donald Trump’s administration pulled the United States out of the United Nations Human Rights Council Tuesday, attacking the body as ‘not worthy of its name’.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s U.N. ambassador, launched the broadside at the State Department where she accused it of ‘chronic bias against Israel’.
The announcement came just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents.
Speaking beside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley said she that a year ago she made clear the U.S. would stay in the council only if ‘essential reforms were achieved.’
But those calls for change were not heeded, she said. Haley also decried the membership of countries like China, Cuba and Venezuela that are themselves accused of rights violations.
‘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,’ Haley said.
Haley said that if the council – which was set up in 2006 – does reform, the United States ‘would be happy to rejoin.’
‘These reforms were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights,’ Haley said.
‘For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded.’
Out Nikki Haley pulled the U.S. out of the U.N. Human Rights Council saying it had ‘chronic’ bias against Israel and had members who themselves violated human rights
Conflict Nikki Haley accused the organization of ‘chronic bias’ against Israel, whose human rights record in the West bank and Gaza (pictured) is the only issue on the agenda at every meeting
Condemnation The Trump administration’s move to leave the body came a day after it condemned the separation of children from their parents when they cross the border illegally
Pompeo said there was no doubt that the council once had a ‘noble vision.’
‘But today we need to be honest,’ he said. ‘The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.’
‘Countries have colluded with each other to undermine the current method of selecting members,’ Pompeo said.
‘And the council’s continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable,’ he said.
‘Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined.’
The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s ‘America First’ policy.
Since taking office, the administration has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the U.N. educational and cultural organization and the Iran nuclear deal.
Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli’s prime minister, hailed the move on twitter , saying it showed ‘enough is enough’.
And a statement from Netanyahu’s office said the council ‘has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.’
But the body’s head, al-Hussein, said the decision was ‘disappointing, if not really surprising news’, adding ‘Given the state of #human rights in today’s world, the U.S. should be stepping up, not stepping back.’
Opposition to the decision from human rights advocates was swift. A group of 12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association – USA said there were ‘legitimate concerns’ about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a U.S. 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 said in a joint statement.
Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch ‘All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.’
But the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration, defended the move, calling the council ‘notably incurious about the human rights situations in some of the world’s most oppressive countries.’ Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make changes.
Haley has been the driving force behind the move, which would be unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.
The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited peace plan despite Palestinian outrage over the embassy relocation.
Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.
Last year, Haley warned the Geneva-based council that the U.S. would withdraw if it did not end its systematic scrutiny of Israel and its alleged rights abuses against Palestinians.
She denounced the council as a ‘forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion’ and accused member countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, China, Burundi and Saudi Arabia of failing to fulfill their duties to ‘uphold the highest standards’ of human rights, while emphasizing what she said was the council’s anti-Israel bias.
Since last year, Haley’s office has also pushed the council and its chief not to publish a U.N. database of companies operating in West Bank settlements, a so-called blacklist that Israel is concerned could drive companies away and cast a further pall over its presence in the Palestinian-claimed West Bank.
Reaction Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights tweeted ‘Given the state of #human rights in today’s world, the U.S. should be stepping up, not stepping back.’
A general view of the Human Rights Room (Room XX) at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Diplomats say the United States is about to quit the United Nation’s main human rights body, primarily over Washington’s claim that the Human Rights Council is biased against Israel
Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under ‘Item 7’ on the agenda.
The officials said the administration had concluded that its efforts to promote reform on the council had failed and that withdrawal was the only step it could take to demonstrate its seriousness. It was not immediately clear if the U.S. would remain a non-voting observer on the council.
A full pullout by the U.S. would leave the council without one of its traditional defenders of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.
There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can only serve two terms in a row.
The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before the administration of President George W. Bush did so when the council was created in 2006. Item 7 on ‘Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.
A pullout could be largely symbolic The United States’ current term on the council ends next year, when it could revert to the observer status held by other countries that are not members. In that situation, the U.S. would be able to speak out on rights abuses, but not to vote.
A key question will be where a U.S. pullout would leave Israel if its biggest and most powerful defender abandons its voting rights or drops out of the council altogether.
The State Department’s web site says protection of fundamental human rights was a ‘foundation stone’ for the United States’ creation over two centuries ago and that promoting respect for human rights since has been a ‘central goal’ of U.S. foreign policy.
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