When ‘America First’ Means ‘America Not At All’
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When ‘America First’ Means ‘America Not At All’

Quitting the UN’s Human Rights Council, US Takes Another Step Away from International Agreements

The United States, human rights beacon to the world, has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council over perceived bias towards Israel, international criticism of U.S. border policies and a willingness to allow human rights abusers onto the panel.

Wow, when the going gets tough, I guess America First means picking up your marbles and going home.

Actually, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley sounded pretty strong in taking the action.

She blistered the council has “become a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” citing the admission of Congo as a member even as mass graves were being discovered there and the failure to address human rights abuses in Venezuela and Iran. “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments,” she said during a joint appearance with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the department. “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.”

The UN’s Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, Switzerland

Okay, but still. Withdrawal from the premier group to shine a light on human rights abuses seems like sticking one’s head in the sand. This is especially true for the Trump administration, which has shown a continuing pattern of saluting authoritarian dictatorships, including North Korea most recently, without mentioning that those national populations are in serious trouble from their own government.

Of course, the current brouhaha on the border about separating immigrant children from families seeking asylum provides a jarring image to show at the same time as calling out the UN panel.

Haley accused governments with woeful human rights records of seeking seats on the council to avoid scrutiny and then resisting proposals for reform. “When we made it clear we would strongly pursue council reform, these countries came out of the woodwork to oppose it,” she said. “Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt all attempted to undermine our reform efforts this past year.”

The decision to leave the 47-nation body is another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems out of sync with American interests on trade, defense, climate change and, now, human rights. And, as The Washington Post noted, it leaves the council without the United States playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world.

Israel is very used to being on the wrong end of UN resolutions concerning the treatment of Palestinians, particularly since Muslim-majority nations are the biggest group of votes in the General Assembly. But the decision last month for the Israeli army to fire live ammunition against protests from Gazans challenging at the border during an Israeli anniversary date week was bound to draw attention from international human rights panels since it drew plenty of negative notoriety from individual nations at the time.

The United States is midway through a three-year term on the council, which is intended to denounce and investigate human rights abuses. A U.S. departure deprives Israel of its chief defender at a forum where Israel’s human rights record comes up for discussion at every meeting, a standing item on the agenda.

Pompeo was scathing in his assessment of the council, calling it an “exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.” He said, “The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human rights abuses, and is, therefore, an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change.”

This is the first time since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006, replacing the disbanded Human Rights Commission, that a sitting member volunteered to step aside, though Libya was suspended in 2011 after a government crackdown on unarmed protesters. The Obama administration sought a seat in 2009 in an effort to showcase that human rights were an important aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Before the United States joined, half the country-specific votes condemned Israel. During the first six years, the United States was a member, resolutions critical of Israel dropped to one-fifth. U.S. membership also led to a sharp decrease in the number of special sessions that focused exclusively on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The Trump administration’s irritation with the council makeup and its agenda has been telegraphed with drumbeat regularity by Haley. A year ago, she denigrated it as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion,” and threatened a U.S. exit if the council did not kick out abusive regimes and remove Item 7, the standing resolution critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. She repeated her ultimatum two weeks ago.

Since 2006, the Human Rights Council has passed more than 70 resolutions critical of Israel, 10 times as often as it has criticized Iran. On one day alone in March, the council passed five resolutions condemning Israel.

“The Trump administration seems to be the only government that seriously wanted the Human Rights Council to promote universal respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in a fair and equal manner,” he said.

June 25, 2018