US withdraws from ‘biased’ UN Human Rights Council

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WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS, June 20 (PTI): The US has quit the United Nations Human Rights Council, America’s Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced on Wednesday, calling it a ‘cesspool of political bias’ that targets Israel disproportionately while ignoring atrocities in other countries.

Declaring that America will not take lectures from hypocritical institutions, the Indian-American top diplomat claimed that human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is a 47-member inter-governmental body within the UN system tasked with upholding human rights.

The move to quit UN, which the Trump administration has threatened for months, came down one day after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border as “unconscionable.”

Speaking from the State Department, where she was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley defended the move to withdraw from the council, saying US calls for reform were not heeded.

“Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council,” said Haley, listing US grievances with the body.

“The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the council continues politicising scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in its ranks,” she said.

“Therefore, as we said we would do a year ago if we did not see any progress, the United States is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council,” Haley said.

In doing so, Haley made it clear that this step is not a retreat from 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 organisation that makes a mockery of human rights,” she said.

Last year, the Trump administration had notified the UNESCO, another UN body, of the US decision to withdraw from the organisation, citing Washington’s concerns with mounting arrears at the UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.

At the joint media appearance, Haley also criticised the council for a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel,” citing a series of resolutions highlighting alleged abuses by the Israeli government of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Secretary of State Pompeo alleged that the council enables abuses by absolving wrongdoers through silence and falsely condemning those who have committed no offence.

“We have no doubt that there was once a noble vision for this council. But today, we need to be honest  the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights,” he said.

“Worse than that, the Human Rights Council has become 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.

A mere look around the world today demonstrates that the council has failed in its stated objectives, he said.

“Its membership includes authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba and Venezuela,” Pompeo said.

Reacting to the Trump administration’s decision, the UN expressed disappointment.

“The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council,” Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement.

“The UN’s Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide,” she quoted UN chief Antonio Guterres as saying.

The UN human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called the US withdrawal “disappointing, if not really surprising, news”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the US government’s decision to withdraw from the UNHRC will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise.

“President Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Oxfam America president Abby Maxman called the US decision “shortsighted” that will have profound consequences for America’s international standing and for its legacy on human rights.

“We at Oxfam know that we cannot fight poverty without justice. Surely the Trump administration must know that international peace, security and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected,” Maxman said.

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