Trump administration will withdraw US from UN human rights council, report says

The US Ambassador Nikki Haley said last year that the group has a 'chronic anti-Israel bias' 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Friday 15 June 2018 17:50 BST
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley leaves after addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland 6 June 2017.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley leaves after addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland 6 June 2017. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

President Donald Trump's administration is said to be set on withdrawing the US from the United Nations Human Rights Council. which meets for a new session next week

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has accused the 47-member organisation based in Geneva of “chronic anti-Israel bias” since she came into office last year and according to a number of reports, the withdrawal is “imminent,” particularly after UN's recent condemnation of Israel's violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

Diplomats believe it is a case of when, not if, the US withdraws according to Reuters, although the State Department did not say in a statement that a decision had been made.

A State Department official told The Independent but that the US "wants a Human Rights Council that fulfils its purpose as the premier international focal point for human rights issues".

The official said that "at its best" the Council compels violators to act towards "positive action," however they noted that " all too frequently, it fails to address critical situations for political reasons – and undermines its own credibility".

The human rights body was formed in 2006, but was shunned administration of President George W Bush. In 2009, President Barack Obama reversed thet decision after taking office.

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The council's critical stance of Israel has long been a contentious issue for the US, Israel's main ally. Ms Haley had said last year at this time that Israel is the “only country permanently on the body’s calendar”.

The US ambassador had at the time also called on the council to vote on resolutions against Venezuela, Syria, Eritrea, Belarus, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo and opposed a periodic review of Israel’s human rights.

The council has a permanent item on the agenda, item seven, looks at suspected violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, which Washington wants removed.

In the last year, that stance may have become more entrenched as the US officially recognised the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A withdrawal would mark the latest move by Mr Trump's administration to snub elements of the international community. The US also last month that it would be pulling away from the six-party Iran nuclear deal, which had provided a reduction of sanctions on Tehran in exchange for the country halting development of its nuclear weapons programme.

The US has also already said it will withdraw from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) citing an anti-Israel bias.

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Anjali Dayal, an international security professor at Fordham University, told The Independent that the US move is “not a surprise” given Ms Haley’s consistent stance regarding the council and Israel. Washington has also repeatedly accused the council of shielding the repressive regimes it should be condemning, allowing such nations to join the body and then potentially use it to thwart scrutiny.

Mr Trump has also long been critical of multilateral organisations, including the UN as a whole, as well.

However, Ms Dayal said the US is not without “valid criticisms” of the body. There are “human rights abusers with seats on the Council,” Ms Dayal explained.

But, Ms Dayal argued the issue was “not an unknown” drawback of the council. Ms Haley knew this was a problem coming into office since activists, observer groups, and smaller nations have complained about differing regional processes that allow it to happen for years.

But, Ms Haley is “going much more the Bush administration route,” Ms Dayal said. But the US “will have to be in the room” in order to make any significant change to the council.

The State Department official told The Independent the US "will continue to discuss and work with other UN member states for significant reform of the [Council], and seek to advance human rights wherever and whenever we can," but did not elaborate on what kind of action or negotiating that would entail.

Never in the 12 years of the council, has a serving member dropped out voluntarily. Seven years ago, in the midst of the Arab Spring, Libya was kicked out with the approval of the UN General Assembly.

The 47-member council opens the second of its three annual sessions Monday, when UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein makes his last address to a regular meeting before stepping down in August.

In terms of the options the US has, secretary of state Mike Pompeo could opt for a full withdrawal from the council— the option preferred by Ms Haley — or remain in the room as an observer, without the right to vote on resolutions.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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