Bolton Confirms That the U.S. Will Defund UN Human Rights Office

Patrick Goodenough | August 24, 2018 | 12:33am EDT
Font Size
The United Nations flag flies on a bridge in the Swiss city of Geneva, home of the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

( – National Security Advisor John Bolton on Thursday reaffirmed that the administration’s withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council is being accompanied by an end to U.S. funding for the world body’s human rights office. U.S. taxpayers have long paid the largest share.

Bolton told the Associated Press in Geneva that the U.S. will defund the HRC and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), by reducing by the relevant amount the sum that it pays into the regular U.N. operating budget. reported on the defunding decision in June, on the same day Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced President Trump’s decision to exit the HRC.

Based on gross national income and other factors, U.S. taxpayers account for 22 percent of the regular U.N. budget in “assessed contributions.” From that budget, the OHCHR/HRC draws a little more than 40 percent of its own budget (44 percent in 2017, 45 percent in 2016, 46 percent in 2015).

The rest of the OHCHR/HRC budget is met by “voluntary contributions” by member-states, and some non-governmental sponsors.

Apart from paying more than one-fifth of the regular U.N. budget, the U.S. has also traditionally topped the list of countries when it comes to the amount of those voluntary contributions.

This year, however, U.S. voluntary contributions to the OHCHR have already shown a sharp downward trend – $1 million for the first seven months of 2018, compared to $20.16 million in 2017, $17.05 million in 2016 and $16.25 million in 2015.

As a percentage of the total received in voluntary contribution, the U.S. has this year accounted for just 0.1 percent, compared to 14.1 percent last year, 13.1 percent in 2016 and 12.9 percent in 2015.

For the 2018-2019 biennium the OHCHR will receive $201.6 million from the U.N. regular budget, or about $100.8 million for each year. The defunding decision will therefore save American taxpayers roughly $22.1 million per year in assessed contributions, in addition to the amount already saved in voluntary contributions.

Haley said in June that the decision to leave the HRC followed unsuccessful efforts to fix problems including the presence of rights-abusers in its ranks and a skewed focus on Israel.

She stressed the administration will continue to promote human rights outside that forum, pointing to past U.S. initiatives in the U.N. Security Council, including a first-ever session “dedicated to the connection between human rights and peace and security” last year, and a session last January focused on human rights in Iran.

Israel has long been disproportionately targeted for HRC censure – the subject of more condemnatory resolutions over the years since the council’s establishment in 2006 than those directed at the U.N.’s other 192 member-states, combined. It is also the only country situation to be a permanent item on the HRC’s formal agenda.

‘Wake-up call’

Welcoming Bolton’s comments Thursday, Israel’s public security and strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan tweeted, “Those who agree that the U.N. should focus on exposing the world’s worst human rights violators, rather than on obsessively attacking the MidEast’s one true democracy, will applaud [Trump] and [Bolton’s] decision to defund [OHCHR and HRC]. Those who disagree, well ...”

U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental organization that closely monitors the HRC, expressed the hope that “the U.S. decision to defund OHCHR will be a wake-up call that will spur incoming U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to undertake a complete overhaul of the troubled agency.”

Bachelet, the socialist former president of Chile, is due to take up the post next Saturday, succeeding Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a vocal critic of Trump’s policies.

The U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré, File)

U.N. Watch said that while the OHCHR claims to be independent of the HRC, in reality it “acts as the executive arm for the Orwellian decisions of the dictator-dominated council, and often its officials act as the council’s spokespersons.”

(This year’s HRC members include more repressive governments than ever before in the 12 years it has been operating. Of the 47 members, 14 are graded “not free” by Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, DRC, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.)

U.N. Watch acknowledged that some OHCHR staffers “do good work” and that some funding is used to report on victims of abuses.

But other funding, it said, is used to advance mandates with “no connection to individual human rights or, worse, designed by regimes like Cuba as political mechanisms to attack democracies.”

These include the “right to peace” resolution, the “promotion of a democratic and equitable international order” mandate, and the “unilateral coercive measures” mandate, which scrutinizes Western sanctions. All are regularly opposed by the U.S. – even as U.S. taxpayers have helped to fund them.

After its efforts to create a strong and effective HRC were frustrated in 2005-6, the George W. Bush administration – with Bolton as ambassador to the U.N. at the time – chose not to support or join the new body when it began operating.

President Obama reversed that policy in 2009. In overturning that decision last June, the U.S. became the first HRC member to voluntarily surrender its seat.

mrc merch