The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council today, condemning the "hypocrisy" of its members and its alleged "unrelenting bias" against Israel.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, came to Washington to announce the decision alongside President Donald Trump's top diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Both insisted the United States would remain a leading champion of human rights, but for many, the decision will reflect Trump's general hostility to the world body and to multilateral diplomacy in general.
The announcement came after the top UN human rights official criticised Washington for separating migrant children from their parents who are seeking asylum after crossing into the country from Mexico.
But Haley and Pompeo stressed the decision had been made after a long year of efforts to shame the council into reform and to remove member states that themselves commit abuses. "These reforms were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights," Haley said.
"For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias. Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded." The Geneva-based body was established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide, but its pronouncements and reports have often clashed with U.S. 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. But, as Haley stressed, Washington also believes it comes up short on criticizing even flagrant abuses by U.S. opponents like Venezuela and Cuba.
"Countries have colluded with each other to undermine the current method of selecting members," Pompeo said. "And the council's continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable," he said. "Since its creation, the council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined." Haley, who issued a warning a year ago that Washington would make good on its threat to leave the council if reforms were not carried through, used even starker language.
"We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights," she said.
The United States has always had a conflicting relationship with the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush Administration decided to boycott the council when it was created in 2006 for many of the same reasons cited by the Trump administration.
The then UN ambassador was John Bolton - who is currently President Trump's national security adviser and a strong critic of the UN. It wasn't until years later, in 2009, that the United States re-joined under the Obama administration.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he regretted Washington's decision, adding: "The UN's human rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide."
"Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today's world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back" -- UN Human Rights Chief #Zeid following USA decision to withdraw from U.N. Human Rights Council.#StandUp4HumanRights
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 19, 2018
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein -- a Jordanian -- had rebuked Trump over the current U.S. government’s practice of splitting up migrant families detained on the Mexican border. "The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable," he said. (With Agency inputs)