The US has pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling it a “cesspool of political bias”. The “hypocritical and self-serving” body “makes a mockery of human rights”, said US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley.
Formed in 2006, the Geneva-based council has been criticised for allowing countries with questionable human rights records to be members.
But activists said the US move could hurt efforts to monitor and address human rights abuses around the world.
Ms Haley announced her country’s intention to quit the council at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called the council “a poor defender of human rights”.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a statement released through his spokesman, responded by saying 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”. Israel, meanwhile, has praised the decision.
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.
What is the UN Human Rights Council?
The UN set up the council in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which faced widespread criticism for letting countries with poor human rights records become members.
A group of 47 elected countries from different global regions serve for three-year terms on the council.
The UNHRC meets three times a year, and reviews the human rights records of all UN members in a special process the council says gives countries the chance to say what they have done to improve human rights, known as the Universal Periodic Review.
The council also sends out independent experts and has set up commissions of inquiry to report on human rights violations in countries including Syria, North Korea, Burundi, Myanmar and South Sudan.
The New York-based group Human Rights Watch condemned the US decision to leave the council and called President Trump’s human rights policy “one-dimensional”.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to support the measure, posting a number of tweets praising the country’s “courageous decision”.