(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley on Wednesday accused prominent international human rights groups of resisting U.S. efforts to reform the U.N. Human Rights Council, partly for reasons of self-interest.
“They have big staffs and lots of relationships with the U.N. bureaucracy,” Haley said in a speech, naming groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. “Change is threatening to them.”
Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation on the administration’s decision last month to withdraw from the HRC, Haley condemned autocratic governments that abuse the council for their own ends, but also criticized rights-supporting democracies which she said shared U.S. concerns in private – but lacked the courage to speak out publicly.
And she devoted particular criticism to non-governmental organizations – “the private groups that usually do good work on behalf of human rights” – for their approach towards the ultimately unsuccessful U.S. campaign to improve the Geneva-based council.
The NGOs agree that human rights abusers should not be members of the HRC, Haley said.
“So you can imagine our surprise when they came out publicly against our reforms, telling other countries to vote against us,” she said. “Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sided with Russia and China on a critical human rights issue. And I’ll let you be the judge of their reasoning.”
Last May, a group of NGOs wrote a letter urging countries not to support the U.S. initiative, expressing concerns that it could backfire.
After Haley on June 19 announced the administration’s decision to quit – and criticized the NGOs’ stance – the groups sent a letter to her rejecting the criticism, and stating that they “had legitimate concerns that the U.S.’s proposal to reopen the Council’s institutional framework at the General Assembly would do more harm than good.”
In Wednesday’s speech, Haley dismissed that reasoning.
“The NGOs were afraid that opening up the Human Rights Council to changes would result in hostile amendments in the General Assembly that would make the council even worse,” she said.
“Think about that for a second. Their view is that a bad situation can’t be improved because it could get worse?”
But then Haley went a step further, suggesting that another reason for their attempts to thwart U.S. reform efforts was a more self-serving one.
“These NGOs’ unwillingness to challenge the status quo also comes from their institutional comforts,” she said. “They have big staffs and lots of relationships with the U.N. bureaucracy. Change is threatening to them. If we approached everything with their attitude, nothing would ever improve and complacency would rule the day.”
‘What are your human rights credentials?’
NGO representatives hit back on social media.
“We have a Nobel Peace Prize @nikkihaley, what are your human rights credentials?” tweeted Amnesty’s U.N. representative Sherine Tadros, slamming the ambassador for trying “to school us on human rights.”
Another Amnesty staffer, Conor Fortune, took the opportunity to criticize President Trump, tweeting that while Haley accuses the NGOs of siding with Russia and China, “[w]e routinely excoriate both for their dismal human rights records. And who exactly was Haley’s boss siding with in Helsinki?”
Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director for HRW, said on Twitter that HRW had warned Haley not to give Russia and China a chance to “wreck” the HRC, by bringing the matter to the General Assembly.
In her speech, Haley called the HRC the U.N.’s “greatest failure,” accusing it of reducing the idea of human dignity to “just another instrument of international politics.”
“And that is a great tragedy,” she said. “I don’t come to this conclusion happily, or lightly.”
As the administration has done before, she highlighted as the two biggest shortcomings the quality of its membership and the inbuilt bias against Israel.
The membership issue – the fact there are rights-violating regimes on the council – arises from the absence of enforceable entry standards, U.N. practices of regional distribution and the quest for “consensus,” closed-slate elections, and secret ballot elections allowing governments to conceal their voting choices.
The ranks of this year’s HRC include more repressive autocracies than in any previous year since the council was established in 2006. Fourteen of the 47 members, or 29.7 percent of the total, are ranked “not free” by the democracy watchdog organization, Freedom House.
The institutional bias against Israel arises from the fact it is the only country – out of 193 U.N. member-states – that is the subject of a permanent item on the HRC agenda.
“No other country – not Iran, not Syria, not North Korea – has an agenda item devoted solely to it,” Haley observed, calling the agenda item’s existence “a blazing red siren signaling the Human Rights Council’s political corruption and moral bankruptcy.”
In a panel discussion after Haley’s departure, Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley of the State Department’s bureau of international organization affairs said the U.S. could not tolerate remaining in an institution where the atmosphere was “so toxic to the cause that it allegedly promotes.”
Praising Haley, Moley said, “the real champion of human rights is the person who is strong enough to speak out, and say we are not going to go along to get along.”