The Trump administration may decide to follow the example of George W. Bush and wash its hands of the UN’s Human Rights Council. Reuters reports this morning that the US may announce as soon as tomorrow that it will withdraw from the panel unless the UN commits to serious reform, especially in its obsession with Israel at the expense of real human-rights abuses:
The United States is expected to signal on Tuesday that it might withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council unless reforms are ushered in including the removal of what it sees as an “anti-Israel bias”, diplomats and activists said.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who holds cabinet rank in President Donald Trump’s administration, said last week Washington would decide on whether to withdraw from the Council after its three-week session in Geneva ends this month.
It won’t be the first time that the US has pulled out of the UN’s panel on human rights. Bush withdrew the US from its predecessor, the UN Human Rights Commission, in 2005 for the same reasons that Trump and Haley propose to do so now. The inclusion of major human-rights abusers as council participants created an environment where it became awfully convenient to go after Israel rather than allow the UN to look at their own records. The UN recast the panel into its current form in 2006, but the Bush administration declined to take part in it as the reforms appeared insufficient. Barack Obama applied for full membership in early 2009.
At the time, then-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon applauded the move, because US membership would “help blunt the influence of some of the council’s most repressive members,” according to the Washington Post at the time. That seems like a strange admission, though; why not just bar the UN’s “most repressive members” from sitting on the panel in the first place? That way the US wouldn’t need to act as a balance, and the panel might actually generate some credibility on the issue.
However, some still think that’s a workable strategy:
Eight groups, including Freedom House and the Jacob Blaustein Institute, wrote to Haley in May saying a withdrawal would be counterproductive since it could lead to the Council “unfairly targeting Israel to an even greater degree.”
In the letter, seen by Reuters, the groups also said that during the period of the U.S. boycott, the Council’s performance suffered “both with respect to addressing the world’s worst violators and with respect to its anti-Israel bias.”
At some point, though, participation looks less like blunting influence and more like implicit endorsement of the nonsensical farce at Turtle Bay. Haley warned about this review in an op-ed in the Post on Friday, expressing the administration’s fast-dissipating patience with the UNHRC and their total lack of credibility on actual human-rights abuses:
Venezuela is a member of the council despite the systematic destruction of civil society by the government of Nicolás Maduro through arbitrary detention, torture and blatant violations of freedom of the press and expression. Mothers are forced to dig through trash cans to feed their children. This is a crisis that has been 18 years in the making. And yet, not once has the Human Rights Council seen fit to condemn Venezuela.
Cuba’s government strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Thousands are arbitrarily detained each year, with some political prisoners serving long sentences. Yet Cuba has never been condemned by the council; it, too, is a member.
In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea. This illegal occupation resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as arbitrary detentions. No special meeting of the Human Rights Council was called, and the abuses continue to mount. …
The presence of multiple human rights-violating countries on the Human Rights Council has damaged both the reputation of the council and the cause of human rights. When the world’s preeminent human rights body is turned into a haven for dictators, the idea of international cooperation in support of human dignity is discredited. Cynicism grows. There is already more than enough cynicism to go around these days.
The UNHRC has been an utter joke since its launch in all of its forms. There is no good reason to remain on the panel; it should be denigrated publicly as often as possible, and no US funding should go toward its operations. Clearly, eight years of participation has not incentivized the UN to clean up its act, so perhaps a few years of ridicule and boycotts are worth a try. That strategy at least forced the UN to act in some manner in 2006, so it’s worth trying again.