US says dedicated to 'multilateralism' despite leaving UN rights council

US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva on April 19, 2018.
US ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood attends a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva on April 19, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (AFP) - Washington remains committed to working diplomatically with other countries to solve problems, despite its decision this week to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, a US ambassador said Friday (June 22).

"Multilateralism works, and we are engaged across the board in a number of international organisations and entities," Robert Wood, the US ambassador to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, told reporters.

His comment came days after Washington withdrew from the UN's top rights body, branding it an anti-Israel "cesspool", in a widely-criticised move.

The council was established in 2006 to protect human rights worldwide, but its actions have clashed with US priorities.

In particular, the council's focus on Israeli behaviour towards Palestinians in the territory it occupies on the West Bank and in Gaza has infuriated Washington.

The US, which has also criticised the fact that abusive regimes such as Venezuela and Burundi are permitted to sit on the rotating 47-seat council, had demanded deep reforms.

This week, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Washington was done waiting for reform.

 
 

"We gave it a year, we talked to countries and tried to get reform going," Wood said Friday, insisting: "We had to leave".

He said Washington "still hopes that there will be an opportunity to come back (to the rights council), but we need to see real reform."

Wood meanwhile said Washington had no plans to pull out of other international bodies that have been the targets of US criticism, including the Conference on Disarmament.

He again voiced outrage that Syria, a country accused of using chemical weapons against its own people, had been permitted to hold the rotating presidency of the disarmament body.

"This was a colossal failure," he said on the last day of Syria's four-week presidency, during which time the US led a boycott of the sessions, insisting it did not want to "normalise" the regime.

"They have done real damage to this body by serving as president just for the four weeks," Wood said, adding the US would "try now to rectify that, but it will be difficult."

According to a decades-old practice among the conference's 65 member states, the presidency follows the alphabetical order of country name in English.

But while Wood was critical of Syria's presidency, he said the US was not pushing for new rules to block countries like Syria from taking the reins.

Instead, he said, the US hoped to improve the workings of the disarmament body from within by speaking out loudly "against those who are undermining the credibility of the body."