U.N. Human Rights Council should live up to its name


The United States has rightly withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley calling it a “cesspool of political bias.”  She added, accurately, that the Geneva-based council is a “hypocritical and self-serving organization” that has displayed unending hostility toward Israel.

It is hard to argue with Haley’s description of the council, which was formed in 2006 with the lofty goal of promoting and securing human rights across the globe. Its membership includes representatives of some of the world’s chief violators of basic human rights including Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.  

The State of Israel has been singled out for harsh denunciations for human rights violations of Palestinians thousands of times since the council was founded. While Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the territories has not been perfect, full legal and civil rights exist for Arabs living there, including the right to vote, hold office and bring lawsuits against Israel in its courts of law.

Meanwhile, Syria, which also has held a seat and occasional chairmanship of the council, is a country where an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, chemical weapons have been used repeatedly and millions of people have been displaced from their homes, setting off a regional refugee crisis. Yet Syria is allowed to get away with its odious practices with impunity.

Not surprisingly, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he would have “much preferred” the United States to remain a member of the human rights council. The U.N.’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called the U.S. withdrawal “disappointing, if not really surprising,” according to BBC News. Israel praised the decision.

A case could be made for the United States remaining a member so that it would have the ability to denounce anti-Israel resolutions within the body itself and to make efforts from within to reform the council and eliminate its anti-Israel bias. This approach has been tried before, but with disappointing results.  

The administration of President George W. Bush withdrew from the original Human Rights Commission to protest its bias and one-sided attacks on Israel. The Human Rights Council replaced the old commission with promises to reform, but nothing really changed. The U.S. seat remained vacant at council meetings.

When President Barack Obama took office, the United States joined the council. While our country was back in the tent and could speak up at the official table, nothing really changed in terms of the council’s makeup and policies.

Now, it’s the turn of President Donald Trump’s  administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke alongside Haley and not surprisingly denounced the council as “a protector of human rights abusers.”

If the composition and practices of the Human Rights Council change, the United States can and should rejoin the body. In the meantime, Haley’s forceful and clear-eyed statement sets exactly the right tone going forward. 

If the council wants the United States to rejoin, it should undertake the reforms needed to be a U.N. entity worthy of its lofty but misleading name.