US withdraws from UN rights council citing hypocrisy, Israel bias

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UN Nikki Haley UN Human Rights Council
The United States is pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday, accusing the international body of protecting abusers, hypocrisy and a "chronic bias" against Israel.PIX: REUTERS via BBC

The United States is pulling out of the UN Human Rights Council, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Tuesday, accusing the international body of protecting abusers, hypocrisy and a “chronic bias” against Israel.

Haley admitted the US failed to convince any other nation to openly back Washington’s efforts to overhaul the council.

The move is the latest in a string of reversals of US policy by President Donald Trump, including the unilateral withdrawals from the Iran nuclear weapons deal and the Paris climate accord. The decisions have weighed heavily on ties with key allies.

While Washington’s relationship with the UN’s human rights mechanisms have generally been fraught – George W Bush also withdrew – Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama chose to engage with the council and became a member of the body, a move that was well received globally.

“For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” Haley said alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny.”

While Haley commented that the US administration did not take the decision to withdraw lightly, she was unsparing in her criticism of the council, saying it was “an organization not worthy of its name.”

She also described the Geneva-based council – which is comprised of 47 members chosen by the member-states of the UN – as a “hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

The president of the council, Vojislav Suc of Slovenia, warned that “multilateralism and human rights are being challenged on a daily basis” and the council acts as a unique space to discuss dire situations and get out ahead of problems.

“Its actions lead to meaningful results for the countless human rights victims worldwide, those the Council serves,” Suc said.

The head of the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said the withdrawal was “disappointing, if not really surprising, news.”

“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back,” High Commissioner Zeid wrote on Twitter.

US Senator Chris Coons from the opposition Democratic Party warned the “serious mistake” would weaken US leadership on the global stage.

“The UN Human Rights Council isn’t perfect, but withdrawing the United States from this important body sends a clear message that the Trump Administration does not intend to lead the world when it comes to human rights,” Coons said.

Haley insisted the US could “lead on human rights outside the misnamed human rights council” and “should it become reformed we would be happy to rejoin.”

Haley said the US had attempted to reform the council but was unable to muster an alliance. “No other country has had the courage to join our fight,” she conceded.

Washington demanded Israel not be a main focus of the body’s work. The Jewish State is on the agenda of every session over the Palestinian issue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision and said his country was “the one genuine democracy in the Middle East.”

The US has been seeking ways to ensure human rights abusers are not elected to the council and oust council members who violate norms.

The UN is at times critical of the US itself over alleged violations of human rights, including recent comments of the policy of separating children from parents at the country’s southern border with Mexico.

Under Trump, the US also announced plans to pull out of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), alleging that a bias against Israel is present there too. -DPA

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