There is an unmistakable degree of irony in the withdrawal of the United States of America from the United Nations Human Rights Council. The fountainhead of libertarian democracy has pulled out of an international entity that is tasked to address the violation of rights. Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday at once mirrors his condescension towards the United Nations ~ which he had once dubbed as an “anachronism” ~ and the US policy towards the Middle East. He has debunked the UNHRC as a “cesspool of political bias” that mainly targets Israel while ignoring atrocities in other countries.
Any essay towards reform must have the concurrence of the world body. It is not as if the council will respond to appeals from individual countries. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has bared her angst against the short shrift accorded to the US ~ “Regrettably it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” she said. “Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council.” Essentially, therefore, the cavil emanates from the structure of the entity.
Nonetheless, it is cause for alarm if, as Ms Haley claims, “the world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny and the council continues politicising and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.” Syria today would rank uppermost in that chilling category, not to forget the plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar; but diplomatically enough, Ms Haley has stopped short of specifics. And then the punchline of her presentation that has served to reinforce President Trump’s announcement ~ “For too long the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.
“Though wholly unrelated on the face of it, it is pretty obvious that the White House, post the Trump-Kim summit, is engaged in a bout of robust diplomacy ~ first the hike in tariff imposed on China and now the pullout from a UN agency by a permanent member of the Security Council. To an extent, the US action has somewhat alienated the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who has deeply regretted the withdrawal.
The organisation’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has not denied reality but has couched his response in a note of caution ~ “Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.” Tuesday’s withdrawal is, in a word, an expression of no-confidence in the “biased” United Nations Human Rights Council. The Trump administration has for some months signalled its intent to leave the council, but the announcement has been made while the US itself is under intense criticism for its own human rights, because of the administration’s policy of forcibly separating young children from their parents when apprehended on the Mexican border. Happily, that order has been reversed on Wednesday… in parallel with the pullout.