On Tuesday it was announced that the United States will consider withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The reason stated was that the council was strongly criticizing Israel, a key US ally while remaining silent on Venezuela and Iran. In an article published by the Washington Post, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stated “The question was whether the Human Rights Council actually supports human rights or is merely a showcase for dictatorships that use their membership to whitewash brutality” in regards to a possible exit of the United States from the Human Rights Council.
She may have a point. Several members of the UNHRC have a questionable human rights record at best. This includes (apart from Venezuela) Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and even Iraq.
Photo: Washington Post
However, Haley may be missing the point why the United Nations Human Rights Council exists in the first place. The United Nations, in general, are a place where different nations come together to discuss global problems, among them climate change and the difficult human rights situation in some places of the world. It is above all a forum, that aims to achieve consensus and tries to convince some rogue states, such as Venezuela under President Maduro, that respecting human rights is an essential part of co-existence.
Should, following Haley´s argument, Mexico be excluded from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime because the country is very active in the drug trade? Does it mean, that China should not be part of the United Nations Environmental Programme because it is not very good at protecting the environment?
If the United States decided to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, that would send the message that the US is no longer interested in discussing human rights. This, after the announced exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, would be the next big rejection of accepted values and norms of Western democracies by the Trump admiration.
It would also increase the perception that Donald Trump does not care about human rights.
On the occasion of Trump´s first 100 days in office, Amnesty International USA has come up with a list of 100 ways that Donald Trump endangers human rights in the US and globally. Two things that are surprising about this report: firstly, yes, Amnesty International does still operate in the United States despite the extensive campaign of the White House against “fake news”; secondly, the range of issues incorporated in the list of threats to human rights is astonishing, ranging from encouraged discrimination of minorities over the restriction of the rights of indigenous people to health care. In other words, if you are not white, male, wealthy, healthy, straight and not distributing political information, your rights will be infringed by the administration in some way or another.
Since the new president took over, it has become increasingly difficult for asylum seekers and refugees to enter the United States. Just to reiterate, asylum is a human right. If you are fleeing from violence or if you face unjustified or disproportionate penalties in your home country, other nations, including the US HAVE to grant asylum. According to Amnesty International, the US have refused asylum to 47000 endangered individuals.
Furthermore, the travel ban, that is currently making its way through the courts, is highly discriminatory and in no way justified, as its ability to prevent terrorists from entering the country is at best questionable.
Following Nikki Haley´s argument that no human rights abusers should sit in the UN Human Rights Council it would, therefore, make sense for the United States to leave it. If however, the US remains committed to human rights, this needs to be reflected in the actions of the government. Not only does should the discriminatory policies on a domestic level end, but foreign policy should also include human rights considerations to a larger extent. While condemning the membership of human right abuses in the UNHRC, the United States are selling arms to several countries that are both a human rights violator and a member of UNHRC. This includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Practices as such will need to stop if the Trump administration wants to maintain the status of the United States of a country that respects human rights.