UNITED NATIONS Ambassador Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday that the United States will withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, accusing the members of bias against Israel and calling the council “a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
“When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, and Syria, it is the Council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name. It is time for the countries who know better to demand changes.” Nikki Haley said in an announcement at the State Department alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “The United States continues to evaluate our membership in the Human Rights Council. Our patience is not unlimited.”
Tasked with protecting and promoting human rights around the world, the council once had a “noble vision,” Pompeo said, but “today we need to be honest: The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”
The 47-member council currently includes 14 countries ranked as “not free” in Freedom House’s 2018 “Freedom in the World” Report: Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
Other members include Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, South Korea, Russia, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zambia.
A group of 12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association – USA acknowledged “legitimate concerns” about the council but decried the U.S.’s decision to withdraw.
“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 organizations said in a joint statement.
The ACLU had harsh words for the move as well.
“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, coupled with its abusive use of power at home, only confirms what we’ve always known — Trump is leading a concerted, aggressive effort to violate basic human rights of those most in need of protection,” the organization said in a series of tweets. “We’ll continue to fight in courts and call on Congress to hold Trump accountable to international law and the Constitution. Only once we get our own house in order and make human rights at home a priority can we begin to credibly demand the same of other countries abroad.”
Others applauded the move.
“I have described the U.N. Human Rights Council as a “dictators’ mutual-praise club.” That’s what it is,” tweeted Sohrab Ahmari, senior writer at Commentary Magazine and consulting editor of the U.K.’s Catholic Herald. “Today I’m cheering the Trump administration wholeheartedly for withholding U.S. legitimacy from that garbage institution.”
Like President Donald Trump, Haley has been highly critical of the council, calling for extensive reforms. Since 2006, the council has passed more than 70 resolutions critical of Israel, and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is “Item 7” on the agenda for every meeting, The Washington Post reported.
“Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley said.
The announcement comes just a day after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised the Trump administration for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. “The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” he said Monday in an address to the council.
On Tuesday, Zaid called the U.S.’s withdrawal from the council “Disappointing, if not really surprising, news.”
“Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back,” he said in a statement on Twitter by the U.N.’s Human Rights office.
The council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2006 as part of a reform intended to replace the former U.N. Commission on Human Rights, a body formed in 1946. Over the years, however, the commission increasingly was seen as a bad jury, a panel whose members had poor records on human rights. The administration of former President George W. Bush had lingering concerns and resisted joining the newly formed council.
President Barack Obama decided that the U.S. should join the council in 2009. It is made of 47 member states, which are elected by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballot. The members are elected for three-year terms and can only serve two terms in a row.
Despite withdrawing, Haley said, “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.” If the council decides adopt reforms, she added, “we would be happy to rejoin it.”