On June 19, 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke at the U.S. State Department alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, officially declaring the U.S.’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
One year ago, June 2017, Nikki Haley addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. In her statement, Haley said the U.S. “is looking carefully at this council and our participation in it.”
She called on the member-countries of the council to be more accountable and to adopt resolutions on “critical” human rights situations in Syria, DRC, and other countries. She took aim specifically at the lack of resolutions towards Venezuela, yet there have been five “biased” resolutions towards Israel in just one month. More importantly, she declared that membership in the council is a “privilege,” and that human rights violators should not be allowed.
Many saw this statement as a warning that the U.S. might withdraw its membership from the council, which has had a shaky relationship since its beginning. When the council was created in 2006, the Bush administration boycotted the council because of its anti-Israel bias, among other reasons. Countries serve on the council for three-year terms, so the U.S. eventually joined under President Obama in 2009 (and again in 2012).
While the U.S. abided by the rules and sat out after two consecutive terms, several countries who the U.S. considers “human rights abusers” actually gained membership in the council. These countries include: China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia in 2013.
For Haley and the Trump administration, the decision to withdraw is reasonable and justified. In her withdrawal speech, Haley pointed to the previous year, in which the U.S. made numerous attempts to get countries on board with the “essential reforms” needed in order for the U.S. to stay. She referenced President Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly last year, meetings between herself and dozens of ambassadors, and the fact that many U.S. allies actually agreed with the U.S. by saying that the council needs major changes.
However, despite these efforts, not only was no progress made but the council became worse off. Haley took aim at the fact that Venezuela and the DRC were given membership as well, both countries that have poor human rights records. She also defended the U.S.’s decision by stating how the “extreme bias” against Israel has grown even more since its beginning—the council had passed five resolutions against Israel alone in the past month, which is more than North Korea, Iran, and Syria combined. This is not the first time that U.S. has strongly defended Israel at the UN, as President Trump and Ambassador Haley threatened to withhold U.S. aid to any country that voted against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017.
The administration’s message was “We’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer,” implying that they would no longer provide money and aid to certain countries that oppose them.
In finalizing her defense of the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the HRC, Haley noted that U.S. participation in the council is “the last bit of credibility” that the council has.
A lack of reform since the U.S.’s warning combined with perceived extreme biases and loose restrictions towards membership justifies the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the HRC—at least in the eyes of the Nikki Haley, who says that the U.S. will “lead on human rights outside of the council.”
Supporters of the U.S.’s withdrawal say enough is enough, and that the U.S. had every right to leave. Israel is the sole nation that has publicly approved of the U.S.’s decision.
Several countries have already spoken out in opposition of the U.S.’s withdrawal—including foreign ministries of the UK, Australia, China, and many others. Arguments reflect the idea that it is simply more logical and realistic for changes to be made within, not outside of the council.
Those who oppose the decision also believe that it is just another action showing the Trump administration’s anti-multilateral tendencies. The withdrawal of the U.S. from the TPP, Paris Climate Accords, and Iran nuclear deal are recent examples of anti-multilateral actions taken by the Trump Administration.
By Brandon Beck