‘An Exercise in Shameless Hypocrisy’: US Withdraws From UN Human Rights Council

Patrick Goodenough | June 19, 2018 | 7:23pm EDT
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The U.N. Human Rights Counci meets in Geneva. (UN Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The United States is not willing to lend credibility to the U.N.’s “misnamed” Human Rights Council by remaining a member any longer, Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said Tuesday, joining Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in announcing that the U.S. is withdrawing from the Geneva-based body.

Describing it as “an organization that is not worthy of its name,” Haley recalled that a year ago she had addressed the council, “outlined the U.S. priorities for advancing human rights” and said the U.S. would continue to participate if essential reforms – “needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights” – were achieved.

The calls went unheeded, she said.

“Human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council. The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny. And the council continues politicizing and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records – in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.”

Speaking at the State Department alongside Pompeo, Haley stressed that withdrawing was not a “retreat” from a commitment to human rights.

“On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

Haley said many countries argue that the U.S. should remain a member of the HRC because “American participation is the last shred of credibility that the council has.”

“But that is precisely why we must leave. If the Human Rights Council is going to attack countries that uphold human rights and shield countries that abuse human rights, then America should not provide it with any credibility.”

Haley said that over the past year, the U.S. Mission in New York has pushed for reforms, and that in its engagement with 125 U.N. member-states, almost every country agreed – “in principle and behind closed doors” – that “major, dramatic and systemic changes” were needed.

“Yet no other country has had the courage to join our fight.”

“We have no doubt that there was once a noble vision for this council,” Pompeo said. “But today we need to be honest: The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”

“Worse than that, the Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.”

The body’s “continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable,” Pompeo said, noting that since the HRC was created in 2006 it has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world, combined.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision.

“For years, the UNHRC has proven to be a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights,” he said. “Instead of dealing with regimes that systematically violate human rights, the UNHRC obsessively focuses on Israel, the one genuine democracy in the Middle East.”

“The U.S. decision to leave this prejudiced body is an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

“Nikki Haley correctly exposed the pathologies of UN’s dictator-dominated Human Rights Council,” tweeted U.N. Watch executive director Hillel Neuer, one of the HRC’s severest critics.

“But because we know already from U.S. absence in 2006-9 that the menace won't go away, we think the remedy is to send someone just like Haley to speak truth [at the HRC] & before the world.”

From Susan Rice, who served as ambassador to the U.N. and National Security Advisor in the Obama administration, the verdict was blunt: “Retreat. Withdraw. Fail.”

Abusers in the ranks

In his comments, Pompeo pointed out that the current HRC membership includes “authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba and Venezuela.”

For her part, Haley recalled that since her call for improvements a year ago, the Democratic Republic of Congo had been elected onto the council – a country which, she said, “is widely known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world.”

As CNSNews.com has reported, elections for the 47-member HRC last fall produced a council which in 2018 has more repressive governments – 14, or 29.7 percent of the total – than in any of the previous 12 years of its existence.

Together with the DRC, China, Cuba and Venezuela, members include Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

All 14 of those countries are graded “not free” by Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog.

(Graph: CNSNews.com / Data: OHCHR/Freedom House)

Critics say genuine reform of the HRC will require drastic changes, since the council was created – the result of drawn-out negotiations in 2005-6 – in such a way as to make it easy for countries to get on and hard to get kicked off.

The Bush administration, represented at the time by Ambassador – now National Security Advisor – John Bolton, pushed for membership of the new body to be specifically closed to any state under U.N. sanction for human rights abuses.

It also wanted council members to abide by human rights standards and be selected by two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly.

Instead, members are elected by a simple majority – and by secret ballot, so countries are not held accountable for their voting choices..

Membership was made open to all – albeit with a non-enforceable appeal for countries to take candidates’ human rights records into consideration when voting. Getting removed from the council is harder, requiring a two-thirds majority for suspension.

Regional representation is also an important factor, with membership weighed heavily in favor of developing nations.

Africa and Asia, the regions accounting for the largest number of countries with widely-criticized human rights records, have 13 seats on the HRC each. Eight seats are earmarked for Latin America, six for the Eastern Europe group, and seven for the Western group,

At annual elections, candidates are put forward by their geographic groups, and often, “closed slates” are offered in elections – with the same number of candidates submitted as there are seats available.

“There is no fair or competitive election process,” Pompeo said Tuesday. “Countries have colluded with one another to undermine the current method of selecting members.”

Haley said that despite pulling out of the council the U.S. would continue to strongly advocate for reforms.

“Should it become reformed,” she said, “we would be happy to rejoin it.”

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