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CWA # 39, 29 June 2018

United States
Now, the United States withdraws from the UNHRC

  Gayan Gowramma KC

The UNHRC has undoubtedly failed to live up to its founding principles. But the US withdrawal might not be of a positive move in making the UNHRC follow its principles.

Trump has been withdrawing from international commitments that the US has made earlier. On 19 June 2018, the US announced its withdrawal from the UNHRC due to the criticism that mounted over the border policy.

Why did the US administration withdraw from the UNHRC? What has been the global response to the latest American withdrawal? Will China gain from this withdrawal?

 

UNHRC: Why did the US withdraw?

From the Paris climate accord and the Iran Nuclear deal, the US has been withdrawing from numerous global commitments. On 19 June 2018, Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, and Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, with Mrs Haley announced that the UNHRC is "not worthy of its name".

Haley described the UNHRC as a "protector of human rights abusers" and also accused the body of "politicising and scapegoating countries with positive human rights records". She said the decision had not been taken lightly and added: “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.”

Furthermore, Mrs Haley said that the US would have stayed if the changes they sought had been implemented, and said she did not rule out rejoining at a later date.

Meanwhile, the announcement of the withdrawal came a day after the United States was condemned by the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, for the "zero tolerance" immigration policy of theirs which has resulted in the separation of nearly 2,000 children from their parents at the border. He also said that "The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable".

According to the Department of Homeland Security, in a span of less than two months, the US officials have separated around 2,300 children from their parents after they crossed the border into the U.S. The United States border policy has been a "government-sanctioned child abuse."

After President Barack Obama took office in 2009 he took measures to promote human rights worldwide. From then the council has passed more than 70 resolutions critical of Israel, 10 times as often as it has criticised Iran. The US has been constant promoter human rights. But the UNHRC anti-bias towards Israel who is the ally of the US has made them withdraw from the same. To add on to this the UNHRC has not been taking any major actions towards the country that are a part of the council and are also violating the UNHRC. 

 

The US Withdrawal: What has been the global response?

After the decision taken by the US administration of withdrawing from the UNHRC in support of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted saying “Israel thanks President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley for their courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council.”

The step taken by the US administration has been criticised by many around the world. US Senator Chris Coons, a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said the move was a "serious mistake" and could weaken US leadership on a global scale. He also said that "The UN Human Rights Council isn't perfect, but withdrawing the United States from this important body sends a clear message that the Trump Administration does not intend to lead the world when it comes to human rights”.

Moroccan human rights activist Khadija Al-Ryadi has described the US decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council as “arrogant” and “political hypocrisy”.

The decision also goes against the letter and spirit of multilateralism and the Charter of the United Nations, of which the US was one of the founding countries. The United States has been strong in the talks carried over in the UNHRC. According to Britain’s ambassador Julian Braithwaite the United States decision “risks undermining the role of the US as a strong advocate and supporter of democracy on the world stage”.

 This can lead to a new member state entering into the UNHRC as the 47th member to fill the United States position.

 

Will China gain from the US withdrawal?

A vacuum has been created in the UNHRC as the US withdraws from the council. It has created a leadership vacancy in the UNHRC. This can be a good chance for the Chinese to enter into the council, for which they have been striving for years.

China had sponsored a resolution in the UNHRC in June 2017, on prioritising development over other human rights. China’s resolution deliberately undermined the principle that: Your right to economic development is equal to your right to freedom of speech. The country has followed up with another resolution in March of this year, which focused on state sovereignty. This resolution faced wide criticism with a UN expert calling it a “trojan horse” and the Swiss ambassador to the UN saying it “weakens fundamental human rights principles.” The US tried to veto the resolution by joining hands with 12 other countries but ended up as the only country to go against the March resolution. Keeping this in kind the only country against the Chinese resolution has withdrawn from the UNHRC. This can be of the greater chance for China to rake up a position in the UNHRC.

China entering into the UNHRC might be a situation of concern as when China ran for re-election for the UNHRC in 2016, the Chinese state's objective was to “actively declare China’s own human rights policy”. Furthermore, China’s senior diplomat in Geneva said earlier this year that China’s efforts at the council were intended to “smash the West’s monopoly on human rights”.

In conclusion, the UNHRC which is meant to uphold the highest standards in promoting and protecting the human rights worldwide involves members who violate human rights (Countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela). The council gives a deeply politicised membership which violates the principles of the UNHRC.  In this way, the council has undoubtedly failed to live up to its founding principles. But the United States withdrawal might not be of a positive move in making the UNHRC follow its principles. The US working from within the council would do better to push for positive change and prevent further backsliding on human rights than sitting on the sidelines. Now that China has a chance to take a position in the UNHRC the rest of the members from the council must work on preventing China and other authoritarian regimes from undermining human rights standards and also push for the desperate need of reform in the council.

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