US Exits UN Human Rights Council, Accuses it of Bias Against Israel
On Tuesday, the U.S. announced it withdrew from the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council and referenced the council’s bias against Israel. The Trump administration’s exit from the council is the latest in a series of exits from international agreements after it abandoned the Paris climate accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the 2015 Iran nuclear treaty.
The U.S. accused the council of being hypocritical and self-serving. The country’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikky Haley, slammed countries including Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for blocking Washington’s effort to reform the council. She also criticized other nations that shared U.S. values and encouraged the U.S. to stay in the council for showing little commitment to going against the status quo.
Haley said:” The disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.”
The 46-year-old diplomat also cited the membership of gross human rights violators such as China and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the council. According to Haley, the UNHRC is focusing too much on what Israel is doing to Palestinians in Gaza while turning a blind eye to human rights violations by countries like Venezuela and Cuba.
Haley failed to mention that human rights groups have demanded the suspension of Saudi Arabia’s membership in the council following the military involvement of the kingdom state in the Yemen war which has taken a disastrous toll on the country. Saudi Arabia is one of Washington’s closest allies.
The U.S. withdrawal came after the U.S. faced strong condemnation of its immigration policy which separated children from their parents at the U.S. – Mexico border. The U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday urged Trump to stop his “unconscionable” policy. On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order to keep families together and reversed this immigration policy.
Reactions: Pros and Cons
Israel applauded the U.S. decision to leave the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying that the withdrawal is a courageous decision against the world body’s hypocrisy.
“For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Australia seems to be neutral. Despite raising a concern of anti-Israel bias in the council, the country’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop urged the Trump administration to reform the U.N.H.R.C. from within without leaving it.
Human Rights Watch (H.R.W.) admitted the council’s shortcomings in letting persistent human rights violators such as Venezuela and Saudi Arabia become members but said the council plays a vital role in addressing gross human rights abuses worldwide.
H.R.W. Executive Director Kenneth Roth sarcastically stated that “America’s First” focuses on defending Israel, while ignoring the suffering of Syrians and Rohingya Muslims.
“President Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations,” Roth said.
Does Washington’s Move Make Sense?
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted the U.N. for issuing a resolution condemning Israel’s attempts to quell Palestinian protesters in Gaza which lead to the deaths of protestors.
“Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined,” the former C.I.A. boss said.
In March, the council issued a resolution regarding the situation in the West Bank. In the same session, the body also produced 42 resolutions addressing human rights violations in Myanmar, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, North Korea, Iran and other countries, but media exposure focused on the resolution addressing Israel.
Reform is needed, but leaving the council is not a solution
Most of the council’s 47 rotating members have been democratic and free nations, but some countries with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have held seats in the council.
Like most complex international governing bodies, the council is not perfect and has its share of flaws. The council sometimes fails to act strongly enough, such as during Egypt’s crackdown on dissent and Venezuela’s efforts to stop demonstrators. The council, set up in 2006 as a replacement for the U.N. Human Rights Commission, has managed to put pressure on countries to improve their human rights reputations.
Some analysts say the council needs reform. The council needs to improve its member selection process, address any biased agendas, create a more functional format for holding meetings, among other suggestions.
But, what is perhaps most confounding and unpredictable is the U.S.’ continued shift away from global engagement. Will the U.S. continue to leave international agreements and go it alone, possibly even leaving the U.N.?