US walks away from UN human rights body

It cites chronic bias against Israel for decision critics say will make it harder to advance human rights worldwide

WASHINGTON • The United States has withdrawn from a "hypocritical and self-serving" UN Human Rights Council over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform, a move that activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Standing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting US efforts to reform the council.

She also criticised countries which shared US values and encouraged Washington to remain, but "were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo".

The withdrawal is Washington's latest rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It comes as the US faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the US-Mexico border.

"Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights," Ms Haley said, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She did not mention Saudi Arabia, which rights groups pushed to be suspended in 2016 over killings of civilians in the Yemen war.

Ms Haley also said the "disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move.

In citing what it said is bias against Israel, the administration of President Donald Trump could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a Middle East peace plan.

Critics said the withdrawal sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

"Given the state of human rights in today's world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back," said UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein.

Russia yesterday voiced surprise at the decision, accusing Washington of "gross cynicism" and "disregard" for the world body.

"The US has once again brought a powerful blow to its own human rights reputation by demonstrating its disregard for the UN and its bodies," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova told a briefing in Moscow.

China also expressed regret over the withdrawal, with state media saying the image of the US as a defender of rights was "on the verge of collapse". The European Union said Washington's decision "risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage".

Rights group have criticised the decision as sending a message that the US was turning a blind eye to abuses across the world.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'US walks away from UN human rights body'. Print Edition | Subscribe