The United States took an unprecedented diplomatic move on June 20 when it became the first country in the history of the United Nations to formally and voluntarily withdraw its membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling it a “cesspool of political bias.”
The US’ ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said at the State Department the day before that the “hypocritical and self-serving body makes a mockery of human rights” due to its “chronic bias against Israel”. Haley went further, criticising the makeup of the Council, which includes members that are “persistent human rights offenders”, such as China and Russia.
Standing alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt for thwarting US efforts to reform the Council and criticised the US’ Western allies values who “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”
“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, while pointing fingers at Venezuela, China, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She did not, however, mention Saudi Arabia, which most rights groups pushed to have suspended in 2016 over the bombing of civilians in Yemen.
Haley also said the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.”
Thus far, the only foreign leader to back the US’ decision has been Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cheered Haley’s comments and the move “courageous”.
Washington’s withdrawal is the latest by President Donald J. Trump‘s isolationist administration which takes a go-it-alone approach to foreign policy. The decision was reportedly spearheaded by Trump’s 32-year-old senior advisor, Stephen Miller, a highly divisive far-right nationalist and a neophyte to national politics, Miller was the chief architect of Trump’s controversial 2017 Muslim Ban and the White House’s current policy of forcibly separating families that are undergoing deportation.
Under the advice of Miller and other the hardliners in the administration, Trump has rejected multilateral engagements and pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The United States is under intense pressure from the international community for carrying out the Miller-designed policy of detaining children and separating them from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called on Washington to immediately halt this “unconscionable” policy.
The US has long shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations. In citing what it says is bias against Israel, the Trump administration could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a long-awaited Middle East peace plan. Trump controversially relocated the US embassy to Jerusalem after recognising it as the capital of Israel in 2017, The move was a decisive break with decades of US policy, which had followed international norms since the state of Israel was founded by recognising Tel Aviv as the country’s official capital.
Washington refused to join the Council when it was first created in 2006 during the presidency of George W. Bush. His successor, Barack Obama, opted to join in 2009. US officials have long complained that the Council focuses too heavily on Israel while ignoring severe human rights violations in other countries that support the Palestinian Authority.
Russia’s UN mission said the US’ criticism of the Council for failing to make changes advocated by Washington appears “cynical” and self-serving.