U.S. expected to withdraw from U.N. human rights council
The United States is expected to announce Tuesday that it will withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, an entity it has long accused of being biased against Israel and giving a platform to rights-abusing governments, according to rights advocates with contacts in the Trump administration.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are scheduled to publicly discuss the decision at 5 p.m. The announcement would come a day after the U.N.’s human rights chief, in a speech to the council, criticized President Donald Trump’s immigration policy decisions that have led his administration to separate families apprehended after entering the U.S. illegally.
It’s not clear whether the U.S. will quit the council in a way that means it will not cooperate with it in any form or whether it will continue to at least observe its sessions and engage in some of its investigations, the rights advocates said. Nevertheless, the move will add to concerns that the United States is, under Trump, retreating from its leading position as an international advocate for human rights.
The United States has long accused the council of being biased against Israel. It has also criticized the council for including in its membership governments that frequently abuse their citizens’ human rights, such as China and Saudi Arabia.
The Trump administration first mulled quitting the council within weeks of the Republican president’s inauguration but decided to hold off in the hopes that it could push through reforms.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, criticized the expected withdrawal as a “sad reflection” of the Trump administration’s “one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else.”
“The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” Roth said.
Some activists acknowledge that the council has deficiencies, but they say a U.S. withdrawal won’t fix those problems.
“It’s a simple fact that when the United States sits on the council and applies its considerable influence, more of that body’s time is spent addressing the world’s worst human rights crises, with less of the body’s time spent disproportionately condemning Israel,” said Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy with Human Rights First.
The 47-member council has a number of powers, including the ability to establish panels that probe alleged human rights abuses. The council was established 12 years ago, replacing the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The commission had faced severe criticism because its members included countries with poor rights records that undercut its mission.
Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the United States declined to join the council, questioning how different it would be than the commission. But President Barack Obama decided it was a better idea to try to influence the council from the inside than from the sidelines, including by defending Israel against critical resolutions.