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US Leaving UN Human Rights Council     06/20 06:13

   The United States is leaving the United Nations' Human Rights Council, which 
Ambassador Nikki Haley called "an organization that is not worthy of its name." 
It's the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international 
institution.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States is leaving the United Nations' Human 
Rights Council, which Ambassador Nikki Haley called "an organization that is 
not worthy of its name." It's the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration 
from an international institution.

   Haley said Tuesday the U.S. had given the human rights body "opportunity 
after opportunity" to make changes. She lambasted the council for "its chronic 
bias against Israel" and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused 
human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and Congo.

   "We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part 
of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human 
rights," Haley said.

   Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State 
Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a "noble vision."

   But today we need to be honest," Pompeo said. "The Human Rights Council is a 
poor defender of human rights."

   The announcement came just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid 
Ra'ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant 
children from their parents. But Haley cited longstanding U.S. complaints that 
the 47-member council is biased against Israel. She had been threatening the 
pull-out since last year unless the council made changes advocated by the U.S.

   "Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded," 
Haley said.

   Still, she suggested the decision need not be permanent, adding that if the 
council did adopt reforms, "we would be happy to rejoin it." She said the 
withdrawal notwithstanding, the U.S. would continue to defend human rights at 
the United Nations.

   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office called the U.S. decision 
"courageous," calling it "an unequivocal statement that enough is enough."

   The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back 
from international agreements and forums under the president's "America First" 
policy. Although numerous officials have said repeatedly that "America First 
does not mean America Alone," the administration has retreated from multiple 
multilateral accords and consensuses since it took office.

   Since January 2017, it has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate 
accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of 
the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs 
on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as 
Israel's capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

   Opposition to the decision from human rights advocates was swift. A group of 
12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United 
Nations Association-USA said there were "legitimate concerns" about the 
council's shortcomings but that none of them warranted a U.S. exit.

   "This decision is counterproductive to American national security and 
foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human 
rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world," the organizations 
said in a joint statement.

   Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: "All Trump 
seems to care about is defending Israel."

   On Twitter, al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, said it was 
"Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights 
in today's world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back."

   And the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump 
administration, defended the move, calling the council "notably incurious about 
the human rights situations in some of the world's most oppressive countries." 
Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn 
immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make 
changes.

   Haley has been the driving force behind withdrawing from the human rights 
body, unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever 
dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.

   The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is 
seeking to advance Israel's agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to 
unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan despite Palestinian 
outrage over the embassy relocation. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, 
Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works 
to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.

   Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for 
discussion at every council session, under "Item 7" on the agenda. Item 7 on 
"Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories" has been part of the 
council's regular business almost as long as it has existed.

   The United States' current term on the council ends next year. Although the 
U.S. could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a U.S. official 
said it was a "complete withdrawal" and that the United States was resigning 
its seat "effective immediately." The official wasn't authorized to comment 
publicly and insisted on anonymity.

   That means the council will be left without one of its traditional defenders 
of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in 
attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and 
Cambodia.

   The U.S. pullout was bound to have ripple effects for at least two countries 
at the council: China and Israel. The U.S., as at other U.N. organizations, is 
Israel's biggest defender. At the rights council, the United States has 
recently been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China --- whose 
growing economic and diplomatic clout has chastened some other would-be 
critics, rights advocates say.

   The Chinese government expressed regret over Washington's decision to pull 
out of the council. In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the 
council is "an important platform" for countries to discuss human rights and 
that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group's work.

   But the Chinese government is often accused by Western countries of human 
rights violations and by rights groups of seeking to undermine the mechanisms 
of the U.N. human rights council. In March, a Chinese diplomat repeatedly 
interrupted a speech by a prominent Chinese dissident to block him from 
addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council, a failed attempt that bared China's 
sensitivity on human rights.

   The foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, dismissed the U.S. criticism 
that the council is problematic because it includes China and other 
authoritarian governments, saying that claim is "a total disregard of facts." 
''Everyone without bias can see clearly China's great achievement and progress 
in terms of human rights," Geng said.

   There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.'s 
General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of 
the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a 
row.

   The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before: 
The George W. Bush administration opted against seeking membership when the 
council was created in 2006. The U.S. joined the body only in 2009 under 
President Barack Obama.


(KA)

 
 
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