June 20, 2018
Avi Selk, Washington Post
The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) on Tuesday amidst growing criticisms against Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies. This move, which US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has defended as an act of support for global human rights, has aligned the United States with Eritrea, Iran and North Korea, three of the world’s worst human rights offenders and the only other countries that have refused UNHCR membership.
In the past six weeks, American customs officials have separated more than 2000 children from their asylum-seeking parents at America’s southern border. Many of these children are now housed in tent cities and converted warehouses, unable to see or communicate with their parents. In early June, the UN deemed these separations illegal under international law and called for their immediate halt. The US has since accused the UN of political corruption and incompetence and has withdrawn their membership from the Human Rights Council (HCR) as a whole. This decision is just the latest of many by the Trump Administration which disregard international treaties and human rights standards, setting an alarming precedent for the remaining years of Trump’s presidency.
Ambassador Haley endorsed the withdrawal, stating “the United States will not sit quietly while this body, supposedly dedicated to human rights, continues to damage the cause of human rights. In the end, no speech and no structural reforms will save the members of the Human Rights Council from themselves.” However, the US’ departure from the world’s leading humanitarian organization arguably limits, rather than enables, the country’s ability to positively impact human rights.
In her speech, Ambassador Haley cited unwarranted bias against Israel as a major reason for America’s departure from the HCR. However, this excuse is flat and unconvincing. The HCR’s programme agenda is made up of ten items, only one of which focuses on conflicts between Israel and Palestine. The remaining nine items cover a plethora of topics including xenophobia, racism, capacity building, and action. Therefore, the role of the HCR cannot be diminished to one of their agenda items, nor should its reports of a country’s human rights abuse necessarily be construed as political bias. In fact, attempting to reconcile one of the globe’s oldest and bloodiest conflicts is arguably the essence, and not a detractor, of a human rights organization. Furthermore, there are many countries that have maintained their membership in the UNHCR despite being politically-invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a testament to the insufficiency of the one-conflict rationale.
This is not the first controversial decision to have cast doubt on the Trump Administration’s commitment to protecting human rights. At the Singapore Summit last week, many activists were astonished to see that President Trump did not once mention Kim Jong Un’s atrocious human rights record; in fact, he praised Kim’s authoritative command of the Korean people, stating that when “he speaks his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” Indeed, in showing complete disregard for human rights, the Trump Administration has aligned itself with the likes of Kim Jong Un, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Eritrean Dictator Isaias Afwerki in an unflattering reflection on the state of American dignity.