By Dana Leger
Rabat – Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, announced on Tuesday that the US withdrew from the United Nations’ top human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights,” she said alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C.
Pompeo accused the council of being “a protector of human rights abusers.”
Both Haley and Pompeo said the decision had been made after a long year of efforts to shame the council into reform.
Haley added that the decision “is not a retreat from human rights commitments,” and accused the council of being “a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.”
“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, naming Venezuela, China, Cuba, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The decision to withdraw comes after the council accused Israel of using excessive force last month and voted to investigate Israeli killings of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.
Since March 30, more than 120 Palestinian protesters have been killed and over 13,000 have been injured by Israeli forces.
Reactions to the withdrawal
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called the announcement by US President Donald Trump’s administration “disappointing, if not really surprising,” adding, “Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
“Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back” — UN Human Rights Chief #Zeid following USA decision to withdraw from U.N. Human Rights Council.#StandUp4HumanRights
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 19, 2018
The European Union said that the move “risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage.”
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, D.C., said the US exit “did not come as a shock” as it was something that Haley had talked about soon after becoming the US ambassador to the UN in early 2017.
Israel, a major ally of the US, praised Washington’s “courageous” move.
“The primary reason why the US is pulling out of the council now is because of its efforts to reduce or eliminate of the unfair criticism, in the US’ view, of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians,” Jordan said.
The UNHRC and its rocky relationship with the US
The UN created the Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which at the time faced widespread criticism for allowing countries with poor human rights records to become members.
A group of 47 elected countries from regions across the globe serve for three-year terms on the Geneva-based council.
The UNHRC meets three times a year and reviews the human rights records of all UN members in a strategic process, known as the Universal Periodic Review. The council claims this gives countries a chance to explain what they have done to improve human rights.
The council has set up commissions of inquiry to report on human rights violations in countries including Syria, North Korea, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan.
The US has a long history of conflicting relationships with the UN Human Rights Council.
The Bush Administration boycotted the council when it was created in 2006 for similar reasons as those cited by the Trump administration.
At the time, the US ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, who is currently President Trump’s national security adviser and a strong critic of the UN.
In 2009, the US re-joined the UNHRC under the Obama administration.