June 19, 2018
The Trump administration is expected to pull back from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday in protest of what it perceives as an entrenched bias against Israel and a willingness to allow notorious human-rights abusers as members.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are scheduled to talk about the Human Rights Council later Tuesday in remarks at the State Department.
U.S. expected to back away from UN Human Rights Council
A decision to leave the 47-nation body, as most observers anticipate, would be more definitive than the lesser option of staying on as a nonvoting observer. It would represent another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems out of sync with American interests on trade, defence, climate change and, now, human rights. And it would leave the council without the United States playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world.
The United States is midway through a three-year term on the council, whose purpose is to denounce and investigate human-rights abuses. A U.S. departure would deprive Israel of its chief defender at a forum where Israel’s human rights record comes up for discussion at every single meeting, a standing “Item 7” on the agenda.
The decision comes a day after the U.N. human-rights chief slammed the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children after they enter the United States at the Mexican border, calling it “unconscionable” and akin to child abuse.
This is the first time since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006 that a sitting member would volunteer to step aside, though Libya was suspended in 2011 after a government crackdown on unarmed protesters.
The United States initially shunned the panel over former U.S. president George W. Bush’s concerns that so many human-rights offenders could be seated through noncompetitive elections for members nominated by their regional colleagues. The Obama administration sought a seat only in 2009 in an effort to showcase how human rights were an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
Before the United States joined, half the country-specific votes condemned Israel. During the first six years the United States was a member, resolutions critical of Israel dropped to one-fifth. U.S. membership also led to a sharp decrease in the number of special sessions that focused exclusively on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“It’s true, the Human Rights Council continues to disproportionately focus on Israel,” said Peter Yeo, an official with the United Nations Foundation that connects the organization with private and nongovernmental groups and foundations. “But with U.S. leadership, the attention Israel brought has dropped significantly. U.S. leadership matters. We’re still the only ones with credibility on human rights on the world stage.”
The Trump administration’s irritation with the council makeup and its agenda has been telegraphed with drumbeat regularity by Haley. A year ago, she denigrated it as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion,” and threatened a U.S. exit if the council did not kick out abusive regimes and remove Item 7, the standing resolution critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Two weeks ago, Haley reiterated her ultimatum. The members she said the administration no longer considers worthy of upholding human rights include Venezuela, Cuba, China and Saudi Arabia.
“The United States is looking very carefully at this council and our participation in it,” she told council members. “Being a member of this council is a privilege, and no country who is a human rights violator should be allowed a seat at the table.”
Since 2006, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions critical of Israel, 10 times as often as it has criticized Iran. On one day alone in March, the council passed five resolutions condemning Israel.
The council’s current membership includes 14 countries that are ranked as “not free” by Freedom House: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
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