Trump quits UN human rights body over ‘bias’ against Israel

For many, the decision will reflect Trump's general hostility to the UN rights body and to multilateral diplomacy in general.
Wednesday 20/06/2018
The name place sign of the United States at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on June 20. (Reuters)
The name place sign of the United States at the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, on June 20. (Reuters)

LONDON - The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemning its alleged "unrelenting bias" against Israel.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, came to Washington to announce the decision alongside President Donald Trump's top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

For many, the decision will reflect Trump's general hostility to the world body and to multilateral diplomacy in general. The US is half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based body.

The announcement came after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein had rebuked Trump over the US practice of separating migrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum after crossing into the country from Mexico.

"The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable," he said.

But Haley and Pompeo stressed the decision had been made after a long year of efforts to shame the council into reform and to remove member states that themselves commit abuses.

"For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded," Haley said.

After the US withdrawal, Zeid said: "Given the state of human rights in today's world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back."

The Geneva-based body’s pronouncements and reports have often clashed with US priorities. In particular, the council's focus on Israeli behavior towards Palestinians has infuriated Washington.

The UN body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that the US wanted removed.

The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The US and Australia cast the only "no" votes.

"Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined," Pompeo said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US decision. The US has long shielded its ally Israel at the UN.

In citing what it says is bias against Israel, the Trump administration could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a Middle East peace plan. Washington also relocated its embassy to Jerusalem after recognising it as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he regretted Washington's decision, adding: "The UN's human rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide."

Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

Twelve rights and aid groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, warned Pompeo the US withdrawal would "make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world."

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said Trump's "misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests."

Independent watchdog Human Rights Watch criticized the move, warning Washington's absence at the council would put the onus on other governments to address the world's most serious rights problems.

"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," executive director Kenneth Roth said.

"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."

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

The EU said Washington's decision "risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage."

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was regrettable and that the council was the "best tool the international community has to address impunity."

The US refused to join the body when it was created in 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, Trump's current hawkish and UN-skeptic national security advisor.

It was only after Barack Obama came to power that Washington joined the council in 2009.

Since Trump took office, the United States has quit the UN cultural agency UNESCO, cut UN funding and announced plans to quit the UN-backed Paris climate agreement.

(The Arab Weekly and news agencies)