Donald Trump

US pulls out of UN Human Rights Council, calling it ‘an exercise in shameless hypocrisy’ for letting China join and creating Israel scrutiny rule

The announcement came soon after the UN human rights chief denounced the US for separating migrant children from their parents at the border

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 12:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 6:23am

The United States has pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, with Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley calling it “a mockery of human rights” for allowing China – among other countries – to join, and for a rule that scrutinises Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

“For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias,” Haley said on Tuesday at the State Department in Washington in a joint speech with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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She said the decision was an affirmation of US respect for human rights, a commitment that “does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights”.

Her remarks came the day after the council lambasted the US for separating migrant families at its border with Mexico – timing that Haley refused to comment on.

“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing the China, Venezuela, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo as members with poor human rights records.

Haley also said that the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights”.

The United States was half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member main UN rights body; the Trump administration had threatened to leave the council a year ago, with Haley calling for changes including the elimination of a “chronic anti-Israel bias”.

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Haley said that the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council “is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.”

Diplomats have said the US withdrawal from the body could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan, which resist what they see as UN interference in sovereign issues.

Twelve rights and aids groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote to Pompeo to warn that withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world”.

“The US’s absence will only compound the council’s weaknesses,” they wrote.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said that Trump’s “misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests and betrays our values as a nation”.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” said Human Rights Watch’s executive director, Kenneth Roth.

“The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”

But Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Centre applauded the US withdrawal and urged other countries to do the same.

The council voted last month to investigate killings in Gaza and accused Israel of excessive use of force. The United States and Australia cast the only “no” votes. Israel’s ambassador in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, castigated the council for “spreading lies against Israel”.

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Last week, activists and diplomats said that talks with the United States about changes to the main UN rights body had failed to meet Washington’s demands, suggesting that the Trump administration would quit.

Tuesday’s announcement also comes just a day after the UN human rights chief denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its policy, saying that “the thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable”.

Haley was asked after her speech whether the timing of the announcement was related to the border policy, and whether the criticism was justified, but she left without answering.

The United States boycotted the Human Rights Council for three years under President George W. Bush before rejoining under President Barack Obama in 2009.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.