US quits 'biased' UN human rights council

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The US has pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The body is “hypocritical and self-serving” and “makes a mockery of human rights”, said Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN.

Ms Haley last year accused the council of “chronic anti-Israel bias” and said the US was reviewing its membership.

Formed in 2006, the Geneva-based council has been criticised for allowing countries with questionable human rights records to be members.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a statement released through his spokesman, said he would have “much preferred” the US to remain in the council.

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

The move comes amid intense criticism over the Trump administration’s policy of separating child migrants from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

Mr Al Hussein has called the policy “unconscionable”.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch condemned the US decision to leave the UN body and called President Trump’s human rights policy “one-dimensional”.

More dismay among allies

Analysis by Nada Tawfik, BBC News, New York

This is just the latest rejection of multilateralism by the Trump administration, and will likely unsettle those who look to the United States to protect and promote human rights around the world.

The United States has always had a conflicting relationship with the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush Administration decided to boycott the council when it was created in 2006 for many of the same reasons cited by the Trump administration.

The then UN ambassador was John Bolton – who is currently President Trump’s national security adviser and a strong critic of the UN.

It wasn’t until years later, in 2009, that the United States re-joined under the Obama administration.

Many allies have tried to convince the United States to remain in the council. Even many who agree with Washington’s long standing criticisms of the body believe the United States should actively work to reform it from within, rather than disengaging.

Ms Haley announced the US’s intention to quit the council at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

She called the council a “cesspool of political bias”, but stressed: “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.”

Last year, she told the council it was “hard to accept” that resolutions had been passed against Israel yet none had been considered for Venezuela, where dozens of protesters had been killed during political turmoil.

Israel is the only country that is subject to a permanent standing agenda item, meaning its treatment of the Palestinians is regularly scrutinised.

Mr Pompeo called the council “a poor defender of human rights”.

“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 added.

What is the UN Human Rights Council?

  • Created in 2006 to replace the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which was widely discredited for electing member states with questionable track records on human rights
  • All of the 47 members are elected for three-year terms
  • The council aims to shine a spotlight on rights abuses by adopting resolutions but has faced similar criticism to the commission
  • In 2013, human rights groups complained when China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Vietnam were elected to the body
  • The US only joined in 2009 under President Barack Obama. It is midway through its current term

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