Nikki Haley: US will lead on human rights outside 'misnamed' UN council

Wednesday, 20 Jun, 2018

A decision to leave the 47-nation body, as most observers anticipate, would be more definitive than the lesser option of staying on as a nonvoting observer.

And Richard Gowan, a fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, told NPR's Michele Kelemen that there is another potential issue muddying the waters of this decision: the recent condemnations leveled at the Trump administration's immigration policies by international human rights officials. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

Haley indicated that the U.S. was willing to consider rejoining the council if reformed were enacted to address her criticisms.

A US departure would deprive Israel of its chief defender at a forum where Israel's human rights record comes up for discussion at every single meeting, a standing "Item 7" on the agenda.

Condemning the planned withdrawal from the United Nations group, Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, said the decision "sends a clear message that the Trump administration does not intend to lead the world when it comes to human rights".

Each council session includes an agenda item on so-called country specific situations, known as Agenda Item 4, where debates on the crises in Syria, Burundi and others typically take place.

The withdrawal followed strong United Nations criticism of US President Donald Trump's policy to separate migrant children from their families at the US-Mexico border.

This wouldn't be the first time the US has declined to be a part of the council. Under President Barack Obama's administration, the USA officially joined the UNHRC in 2009.

The move comes after Haley and the Trump administration said that the body was targeting Israel.

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States declined to join the council, questioning how different it would be than the commission.

She also threatened member states, on Twitter, who voted for a non-binding resolution asking President Trump to repeal his decision to move the USA embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in December. When it was created in 2006, then-President George W. Bush decided the USA would not participate. Human rights are universal and should be applied universally and not in such a nakedly biased way.

"The Trump administration could have left the council any time in the past 18 months, but it did not", he said.

In remarks to the Graduate Institute of Geneva, given the same day as her council speech, Haley made the matter plain.

Few dispute the underlying reasons for the administration's frustration with the council. Israel's ambassador in Geneva attacked the council for "spreading lies against Israel". Even so, in 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the council of "structural bias" against Israel.

"Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights", said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Commenting on the United States withdrawal, he said: "Disappointing, if not really surprising news". Speaking on Tuesday night Haley insisted that all such efforts had been in vain and expressed her frustration that "like minded countries" refused to take a stand unless it was "behind closed doors".

"By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council's bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked - including running roughshod over Israel".

Bret Schaefer, a Heritage Foundation scholar who analyzes United Nations actions, called the withdrawal a "measured" response. "The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately created to remove basic protections from the poorest", it said. She had been threatening the pull-out since a year ago unless the council made changes advocated by the U.S.