The U.S. plans to announce its withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council today, according to Reuters. It’s certainly interesting timing, coming just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, slammed the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children as “unconscionable.” But the move has been expected for some time now and has more to do with the United States pushing back against U.N. criticism of Israel.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council a year ago that the U.S. would leave unless its “chronic anti-Israel bias” was addressed. Haley has also been pushing for reforms that would make it easier to kick egregious rights abusers off the council. The U.S. previously boycotted the council for similar reasons under the George W. Bush administration before rejoining under Barack Obama. The Trump administration has now made it a practice to withdraw from U.N. organizations it sees as having an anti-Israel bias.
The Human Rights Council is certainly not above reproach. While its members are, in theory, required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and a few countries have been blocked, the membership system has allowed the likes of Burundi, Cuba, Togo, and Saudi Arabia to join. (That system is based on regional blocs, making it easy to circumvent a full vote on admittance.)
While human rights criticism of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories is certainly warranted, it’s ridiculous that of all the world’s conflicts and human rights violations, this is the only one for which the council has a permanent standing agenda item.
Of course, like the rest of the U.N., the council’s priorities reflect those of its member governments. As human rights groups have argued, it would be more productive for the U.S. to stay and advocate for reforms than just take its ball and go home.
Plus, with the Trump administration under fire, at home and abroad, for egregious human rights abuses at its Southern border and with the president saying he wants Americans to “sit up at attention” like they do in North Korea, the U.S. clearly is not the most credible voice for reform on this issue at the moment.