Rex Tillerson threatens to withdraw from UN Human Rights Council to improve human rights

Secretary of State is deciding where and how to cut $10 billion of US funding to the UN

Rachael Revesz
Wednesday 15 March 2017 09:48
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Mr Tillerson has reportedly been given flexibility to decide how the cuts are implemented
Mr Tillerson has reportedly been given flexibility to decide how the cuts are implemented

Donald Trump’s administration has threatened to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, arguing that the US wants to improve global human rights and defend Israel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote in a letter to nine UN advocates and human rights groups that the council must undergo “considerable reform for us [the US] to participate” and that the US “continues to evaluate” the council's effectiveness.

Mr Tillerson, who has been given authority as to how and when the US executes its funding cuts to the UN, said he was concerned about the human rights record of other countries in the 47-member council, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

He said the US will remain a member for the time being to “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

“We may not share a common view on this, given the makeup of the membership,” he added.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told journalists this week that he would not get into details about the letter, first obtained by Foreign Policy.

“It’s fair to say we’re having discussions about — and that’s internal discussions, meaning within the State Department, but also with some of our partners — about how to increase transparency and accountability in human rights,” Mr Toner said.

Former President George W Bush refused to join the council in 2006 due to its treatment of Israel, but the decision was reversed by President Barack Obama in 2009, who said it would be better to have a seat at the table.

Netanyahu congratulates Trump

Congress was reportedly preparing legislation last month to defund the UN after the organisation voted to condemn Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories.

President Donald Trump has long expressed his view that the US paid too much towards the UN, which amounts to about $10 billion currently.

He also compared the UN to a "country club" where people were having "a good time".

In January he was reportedly preparing to sign an executive order which would reduce US funding of the UN by 40 per cent, as well as repeal certain multilateral treaties and scrap the landmark Paris climate change agreement.

Trump Compares United Nations to 'Country Club'

The order says that funding will be taken away from any organisation that is "controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism" or is behind the persecution of marginalised groups or systematic violation of human rights.

Foreign Policy reported this week that State Department officials were ordered to cut US funding to the UN by up to 50 per cent.

Peacekeeping operations and the United Nations Population Fund, which fights violence against women and gender inequality, are set to be hit the hardest.

First details of the billion-dollar cuts to the UN could be revealed this week in the US budget for the year ahead, as the President explains how he will expand the military without raising taxes.

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