Trump Administration Puts UN Human Rights Council on Notice; 'Obsession With Israel'

By Patrick Goodenough | March 2, 2017 | 4:35am EST
Deputy assistant secretary of state Erin Barclay addresses an earlier session of the HRC. (Photo: U.S. Mission Geneva)

( – The Trump administration put the U.N. Human Rights Council on notice Wednesday, criticizing the Geneva-based body for its “obsession with Israel” and also taking a swipe at the presence among its members of rights-abusing regimes.

“As we consider our future engagements, my government will be considering the council’s actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the council’s mission to protect and promote human rights,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Erin Barclay told the HRC.

After eight years of Obama administration engagement, the council is facing the possibility that the U.N.’s biggest funder by far could withdraw. Barclay did not mention that in her remarks Wednesday, beyond the warning about considering “future engagements.”

In reference to the HRC’s often troubling membership, she said that the people of some of its member states “face ongoing efforts by their own governments to restrict their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“In some member states, individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention, extrajudicial killings, and sexual and gender-based violence by officials of their own governments,” Barclay continued. “That is unacceptable, especially given the leadership role that council members have.”

As previously reported, one in four of the 47 elected members of the HRC this year are autocracies with poor records on human rights and political freedom.

Barclay also slammed the HRC for what she called its “consistent unfair and unbalanced focus on one democratic country, Israel.”

Noting that Israel – alone among the U.N.’s 193 member-states – is the subject of a permanent HRC agenda item, she asked, “How is that a sensible priority?”

“Right now, the Assad regime is bombing hospitals in Syria and forcing its own people to flee as refugees to neighboring countries to escape its murderous rule,” she said. “Right now, in North Korea and Iran, millions of people are denied their freedoms of religion or belief, of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression.”

According to data compiled by the NGO Human Rights Voices, the HRC has passed 67 resolutions condemning Israel since the council was created in 2006. Syria has been the target of 22 resolutions, and Iran six.

Barclay called the “obsession with Israel” as a result of the permanent agenda item “the largest threat to the council’s credibility.”

Islamic bloc’s influence

The Obama administration last year put submitted its candidacy for a new three-year term on the council, following a mandatory one-year break following two consecutive terms (2010-2012, 2013-2015).

Asked at a briefing earlier this week about reports of a possible U.S. withdrawal under President Trump, HRC spokesman Rolando Gomez highlighted the U.S. contributions to the council.

“The U.S. has been a very active, constructive partner in the council for many years, spearheading a number of very important initiatives,” he said. “The council would certainly benefit from that continued engagement.”

Gomez said the HRC had received no notification about possible withdrawal. He said withdrawing from the council would entail going through the U.N. General Assembly, whose members elect the members of the council. No country had done that before, he noted.

A key driver of the HRC’s focus on Israel has been the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 56 mostly Muslim-majority countries that has long wielded disproportionate influence at the HRC.

Underlining the type of thing the U.S. delegate was pointing to, OIC secretary-general Yusuf Al-Othaimeen urged the council on Wednesday to continue “highlighting and condemning the suffering of the Palestinian people, in one of the worst and most inhumane occupations.”

Under the resolution that established the HRC in 2006, African and Asian countries have 13 seats each, so together they make up a majority of the 47 seats. Of the remaining two regional groups, Latin America gets eight seats and Eastern Europe gets six.

The OIC invariably has had a majority of seats in both the Asian and African groups, thereby holding the balance of power in Geneva.

At no time in the HRC’s decade-long history has the OIC controlled fewer than 14 (29.8 percent) of its 47 seats, and at the most it held 18 seats (38.3 percent) in 2010 and 2011.

As it has led efforts to target Israel or highlight “Islamophobia” – another OIC priority – the bloc has enjoyed the support of non-Muslim allies including Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela.


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