Haley: We Tried For More Than a Year to Reform UN Human Rights Council, With Virtually No Open Support

By Patrick Goodenough | June 20, 2018 | 4:50am EDT
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announce the decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, at the State Department on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

(CNSNews.com) – Critics of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council suggested it was a sign of hostility towards global human rights promotion, but Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the move came after more than a year of unsuccessful attempts to reform the controversial institution.

Those attempts, she said, received almost no open support from other member-states.

The U.S. on Tuesday became the first country to withdraw voluntarily from the Geneva-based HRC, pulling out almost 18 months before the end of its current term.

The vacated seat will be filled by another member of the Western group, after an election which according to a HRC spokesman will be scheduled by the U.N. General Assembly.

Announcing the withdrawal alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, Haley highlighted two major concerns the administration has had from the outset – the fact that rights-abusing regimes are themselves members of the council, and a disproportionate critical focus on Israel.

Preempting the anticipated criticism, she said, “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments. 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.”

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein – who this week slammed President Trump’s border immigration policies – called the decision to withdraw “disappointing, if not really surprising, news.”

“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the U.S. should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty said that Trump through the withdrawal decision was “showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the U.S. claims to uphold.”

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the U.S. defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” said Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth.

“By walking away, the U.S. is turning its back not just on the U.N., but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar.”

‘They would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors’

Haley stressed in her remarks at the State Department that the U.S. has made efforts – virtually alone – to reform and improve the HRC since the administration took office.

She recalled meetings with ambassadors in Geneva, Trump’s appeal during his speech at the U.N. General Assembly last September for members to support HRC reform, and a special meeting in New York, cohosted by the U.S., Britain and the Netherlands, focused on efforts to reform the council.

“Our efforts continued all through this year in New York, where my team met with more than 125 member-states and circulated draft texts,” she said.

“Almost every country we met with agrees with us in principle and behind closed doors, that the Human Rights Council needs major, dramatic, systemic changes, yet no other country has had the courage to join our fight.”

Haley voiced frustration that even countries on the HRC which “do share our values” were unwilling to challenge the status quo in any meaningful way.

“We gave them opportunity after opportunity and many months of consultations, and yet they would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors,” she said.

“Supporters of the Human Rights Council will criticize the U.S. decision as another example of the Trump administration’s rejection of multilateral engagement. This is wrong,” Heritage Foundation senior fellow Brett Schaefer argued Tuesday.

“The administration could have left the council any time in the past year, but it did not. Instead, it sought to work within the U.N. to fix the council. Only when other member states rebuffed these efforts did the U.S. pull back.”

“Unless other member states commit to fixing the council’s problems, the U.S. is better off focusing its time and effort on advancing human rights through other venues and means,” Schaefer added.

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