Lara Kajs | 1 July 2018 |
On 20 June 2018, the United States officially withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council. The decision for the withdrawal was linked to “bias against Israel” by the UN, as well as the acceptance of countries with long-standing human rights offenses as members of the council.
US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, made the announcement stating the council has become a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.” The examples Haley issued were the Congo, Venezuela, and Iran – all countries with deplorable human rights records. But then she said this: “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments, on the contrary. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
These comments come a few days after the UN High Commissioner issued his own observation regarding US human rights violations, especially as they related to the issue of separating children from their parents at the border, calling it unconscionable and likening it to child abuse.
The decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council and the attempt to discredit the rights council is a standard play by the Trump administration. However, it missed the mark when it failed to recognize that the UN Rights Council has played an integral role in Yemen, South Sudan, Myanmar, Syria, and North Korea.
Nevertheless, if blaming the rights council for being biased against Israel was not enough, the administration next blamed human rights NGOs as the reason for the US withdrawal from the council. However, NGOs have pushed back. The fact is that non-government organizations, by their very nature do not work on behalf of government agencies. They work independently of government agencies and country administrations to maintain a level of impartiality and to prevent any bias or perception of impropriety. To blame human rights organizations for the decision to leave is a reach, to say the least.
Therefore, the decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council falls squarely on the Trump administration’s shoulders. And let’s be honest, given the momentum of the administration, it is doubtful that it would even be possible for an outside organization to cast the magnitude of pressure, that could cause the US to break its commitment to the UN Human Rights Council, or stand for human rights around the world.
The Bottom Line
With all of that said, it is true that the rights council needs to make some changes. The argument that the council does not do enough to address membership eligibility is a solid argument. As a human rights NGO, arguing for perpetrators to be held accountable in a country known for rights violations such as rape as a weapon of war – and the same country holds a seat on the council, is defeating. If a country is accused of, under investigation for, or is committing rights violations unequivocally, it should be disqualified from having a seat at the table.
What does all this mean? From a purely human rights standpoint, the United States had a real opportunity to impact positive and meaningful change from within the United Nations Human Rights Council. It is unfortunate that the US would rather quit under some unbelievable pretense, than stay and work for change. More than that, the US just gave up a vote on the council by walking away. Any chance to impact change ended when the Trump administration gave up the seat.
Salil Shetty, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International said it best: “Engaging only with those who agree with you would surely leave you with an ever-shrinking group of people to take to.” But also, quitting, or taking the low road because you did not get your way will also leave you both very unpopular and with a limited group to interact with, not to mention reduce your credibility on a larger scale.
Photo Credit: 34th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by US Mission Geneva. Licensed under CC 2.0 license