U.S. threatens to withdraw from U.N. Human Rights Council

U.S. diplomat Nikki Haley said nations accused of human rights abuses should not sit on the council.
By Doug G. Ware  |  June 6, 2017 at 3:09 PM
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June 6 (UPI) -- Though the United States' membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council doesn't run out for another two years, the Trump administration said Tuesday it might leave early.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said too many members of the world body are guilty of human rights abuses. Additionally, she said, there is too much of an anti-Israel bias.

Haley made the remarks at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations' European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

She said Venezuela, for example, has been accused of human rights abuses recently -- yet remains one of the 47 nations on the council.

"It's hard to accept that this council has never considered a resolution on Venezuela, and yet it adopted five biased resolutions in March against a single country -- Israel," she said in an address to the council. "It's essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility."

The council can at any time call a special session to address human rights emergencies, but one-third of the members must support it. In Venezuela's case, that has not happened.

"The HRC won't have a hearing on the humanitarian abuses in Venezuela, so we held one," she added in a tweet Tuesday. "We won't turn a blind eye to the people of Venezuela."

Haley's words at Geneva's Palais des Nations reflect the stance of President Donald Trump's administration, which has verbally supported Israel in a number of forums since it took office in January.

"Being a member of this council is a privilege and no country who is a human rights violator should be allowed a seat at the table," Haley said.

If Trump follows through on the threat to leave the council, he could do so in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State after the current session ends later this month. The United States' current term is scheduled to expire in 2019.

Formed just 11 years ago, the HRC operates closely with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and includes several nations that have been accused of human rights abuses in recent history. The HRC replaced the U.N. Human Rights Council, which existed between 1946 and 2006, partly over concerns that the former body had become ineffective because too many of its members were human rights abusing governments.

Nations presently on the council accused of human rights violations or repressive tactics in recent years include China, Egypt, Hungary, Nigeria, Iraq, the Congo, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.

Haley proposed reforms for the council to keep abusers from membership, such as a revamped voting system. Member states rotate on staggered three-year terms, meaning up to one-third of the membership could be different next year, depending how voting goes.

"We will never give up the cause of universal human rights," Haley said. "Whether it's here, or in other venues, we will continue this fight."

Members states are elected by secret ballot and must include 13 countries from Africa, 13 from Asia, eight from Latin America and the Caribbean, seven from Western Europe and North America and six from Eastern Europe. Each member must sit out for three years after two consecutive terms.

If Trump's government pulled out of the HRC, it wouldn't be the first time the United States has done so. Former President George W. Bush boycotted the council over concerns that its membership included too many repressive governments. President Barack Obama joined upon taking office in an effort to add legitimacy to the council.

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