US withdraws from UNHRC: Israel welcomes moves, rights' bodies say concerns didn't warrant exit

The United States on Tuesday announced it is leaving the United Nations' Human Rights Council (UNHRC). UN ambassador Nikki Haley called the body "an organisation that is not worthy of its name",  said the US had given it "opportunity after opportunity" to make changes and criticised the council for "its chronic bias against Israel".

"We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights," she said. The announcement came just a day after the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein denounced the Donald Trump administration for separating children from their immigrant parents. Haley has been threatening to leave the council since 2017 unless it made changes advocated by the US.

'An unequivocal statement that enough is enough,'

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the announcement and thanked Trump, Pompeo, and Haley for "their courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council".

Netanyahu said, "The US decision to leave this prejudiced body is an unequivocal statement that enough is enough." Israel has been the subject of more council resolutions than any other country in the world by far, and it is the only country to have its rights record examined at every session of the council, which meets three times each year.

'US' image as defender of human rights on verge of collapse'

China expressed regret over the decision with State media saying the image of the United States as a defender of rights was “on the verge of collapse”. “China expresses regret at the US decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing. "China will continue, working with all sides, to make its contribution to the healthy development of human rights around the world via constructive dialogue and cooperation.” Asked about US criticism of China’s record, Geng said the United States was ignoring the facts and that anyone who was without prejudice could see the enormous progress China had made on human rights.

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

File image of US president Donald Trump. AP

The official publication of China’s top anti-graft watchdog said in a commentary on Wednesday the US decision to leave the council “has put the American peoples’ boastful image of being a defender of human rights on the verge of collapse”.

It said that the separation of immigrant families on the US-Mexico border showed the hypocrisy of the United States and that it “cannot and should not” criticise other countries’ rights record. Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world’s two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

At least two countries at the council are bound to face effects of the withdrawal: China and Israel. The US, as at other UN organisations, is Israel's biggest defender. At the rights council, the United States has recently been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China.

'US exit reflects its unilateralist approach'

Russia said the exit reflects Washington's unilateralist approach to global affairs. Russia's UN mission released a statement saying the US had tried but failed to turn the council into an "obedient instrument for advancing their interests and punishing the countries it dislikes." It added that the US criticism of the council for failing to make changes advocated by Washington appears "cynical." The Russian mission described the council as a "key international platform for cooperation in protecting human rights."

'Pull-out risks undermining US' role'

The Trump administration's decision to pull the United States out of the UN-backed Human Rights Council "risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage", said the European Union (EU). EU spokeswoman Maia Kocijancic says the 28-member bloc remains "steadfastly and reliably committed" to the 47-country Geneva body. The EU said that the United States has "always been at the forefront" of protection of human rights and has been a "strong partner" of the bloc at the council. It said it shares the aim to make the council "more efficient," noting this year's 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration was championed in part by former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

'Would've preferred US to stay'

UN chief Antonio Guterres defended the UNHRC and said he would have “much preferred” for the US to stay in the body. Guterres said the council was a part of the UN’s overall “human rights architecture”, which “plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide”. “The secretary-general would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

A group of 12 organisations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association-USA said there were "legitimate concerns" about the council's shortcomings but that none of them warranted a US exit. "This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world," the organisations said in a joint statement.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said Trump's "misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests." Amnesty International voiced their disagreement with the US' decision on Twitter:

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said: "All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel."

The United States has opted out of the Human Rights Council before: The George W Bush administration chose not to seek its membership when the council was created in 2006. The US joined the body only under then president Barack Obama in 2009.

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 16:00 PM

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