TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun18/14)
25 June 2018
Third World Network

US withdraws from Human Rights Council
Published in SUNS #8706 dated  22 June 2018

Geneva, 21 Jun (Kanaga Raja) - The United States has announced its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), accusing it of "chronic bias" against Israel while being a protector of human rights abusers and claiming amongst others that the US call for reform has gone unheeded.

The announcement was initially made in Washington DC on 19 June by US Ambassador to the UN in New York, Nikki Haley, together with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

An official notification that the US has resigned its membership in the HRC, effective 1700 hrs Eastern Daylight Time, 19 June 2018, has subsequently been conveyed by the US mission to the UN to the UN Secretary-General and copied to the President of the Human Rights Council.

The note verbale said that the United States will not participate further in the on-going Council session or future sessions, and will not serve out the remainder of its term.

Elected to the HRC in 2016 for a three-year term, with the receipt of the formal withdrawal notification, formal action is now expected to be taken by the UN General Assembly to elect a new member to replace the US for the rest of its term.

In her announcement in Washington DC, Haley called the HRC "a cesspool of political bias", claiming that it continues to politicize and scapegoat countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.

The US announcement has come just as the recently adopted policies by the US with respect to the forcible separation of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border has come under intense scrutiny.

In his final address to the thirty-eighth regular session of the Human Rights Council on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, had said that he was deeply concerned by recently adopted US policies which punish children for their parents' actions.

The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable, said the High Commissioner.

Zeid called on the US to immediately end the practice of forcible separation of these children. He encouraged the US Government to at last ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to ensure that the fundamental rights of all children, whatever their administrative status, will be at the centre of all domestic laws and policies. (See SUNS #8703 dated 19 June 2018).

[In a comment on the US policy, NYT columnist Charles Blow wrote in Thursday's NYT, under the title "The King and Queen of Cruelty": "You just can't construct prisons for babies... rip children from mothers and fathers... use the power of the American government to institute and oversee a program of state-sponsored child abuse... (As) Trump learned that this week, an avalanche of indignation came down on him and his administration for his brutal, inhumane "zero tolerance" policy at the border, resulting in the terrible suffering of children and their parents. Citizens... Politicians...ed. Corporate leaders... foreign leaders were outraged. The Pope was outraged." SUNS]

The HRC is currently holding its thirty-eighth regular session from 18 June to 6 July 2018. The issue of the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council came up at the Council session on 20 June.

The President of the HRC, Ambassador Vojislav Suc from Slovenia, referred to the US announcement, and said that while he recognized that it is the prerogative of any member State to take such a decision, in times when the value and strength of multilateralism and human rights are being challenged on a daily basis, "it is essential that we uphold a strong and vibrant Council recognizing it as a central part of the United Nations for the 21st century."

"I am proud to lead a Council which, over the past 12 years, has tackled numerous human rights situations and issues keeping them in sharp focus," he said.

In many cases, the Council serves as an early warning system by sounding alarm bells, and its actions lead to meaningful results for the countless human rights victims worldwide.

"We should never lose sight of the fact that the Human Rights Council is the only intergovernmental body responding to human rights issues and situations worldwide, with the active participation of civil society," he said.

If human rights issues are not discussed here, in this very room, they have little chance to be dealt with meaningfully anywhere else, the President underlined.

Evidence of the significant role that the Council plays is on display at this current session, where dozens of independent human rights experts and investigative bodies, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other participants, will appraise the international community about numerous human rights issues and situations throughout the world, he added.

Ambassador Suc told the HRC that as soon as the notification of withdrawal is formally received, action will be taken accordingly, bearing in mind the provisions of UNGA resolution 60/251.

A new member will have to be elected as soon as possible to replace the United States for the remainder of its term, he said, adding that he intends to be in touch with the President of the General Assembly and will inform the Council accordingly.

Bulgaria, on behalf of the European Union, said that the promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of EU foreign policy and the central pillar of the UN system. The EU reaffirmed its support to the effective and efficient functioning of the HRC and remains committed to cooperating with all countries and with civil society in order to strengthen the Council while protecting its achievements.

The EU regretted the US decision. The US risks undermining the US role as a strong advocate in support of democracy on the world stage, it said.

Australia said it was also disappointed by the US decision. Notwithstanding its flaws, the HRC, it said, continues to be an important forum for maintaining the international rules-based order. Australia reiterated its commitment to a strong multilateral human rights system and advancing human rights globally.

China also expressed its disappointment over the withdrawal of the US from the HRC.


In her remarks in Washington DC on 19 June, Amb. Haley said that one year ago, she had outlined to the HRC in Geneva, the US priorities for advancing human rights, and the US intent to remain a part of the HRC if essential reforms were achieved.

"Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded."

Rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the HRC, the world's most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny, and the HRC continues politicizing and scapegoating countries "with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks."

Announcing that the United States is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, Ambassador Haley maintained that "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."

Haley cited last year's election of the Democratic Republic of Congo as a member, citing it as an example of the world's worst human rights abusers from gaining membership of the HRC.

She also complained about the HRC not even having a meeting on the Rights conditions in Venezuela, nor address massive abuses in Iran.

She then went on to complain of the HRC's "chronic bias against Israel," re calling US views last year that it would not accept the continued existence of agenda item seven, singling out Israel in a way that no other country has been.

And earlier this year, as in previous years, it had adopted five resolution s against Israel, more than the number against North Korea, Iran, and Syria combined.

"This disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel is clear proof that the Council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights," she further claimed.

"If the Human Rights Council is going to attack countries that uphold human rights and shield countries that abuse human rights, then America should not provide it with any credibility. Instead, we will continue to lead on human rights outside the misnamed Human Rights Council."

Speaking with Ambassador Haley in Washington DC, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintained that for decades, the US has led global efforts to promote human rights, often through multilateral institutions.

There have been improvements in certain Rights situations, but "for far too long we have waited while that progress comes too slowly or in some cases never comes."

President Trump, from day one, has called out institutions or countries who say one thing and do another, and that's precisely the problem at the HRC, he claimed. The HRC is now a "poor defender of human rights," and has become "an exercise in shameless hypocrisy".

"And the Council's continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable. Since its creation, the Council has adopted more resolution s condemning Israel than against the rest of the world combined," Pompeo said.

(The full remarks of both Amb. Haley and Mike Pompeo can be found here:


In responding to questions in New York, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said: "The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council. The UN's Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, tweeted on 19 June: "Disappointing, if not really surprising, news."

Given the state of human rights in today's world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back, he added.

Following the US announcement, a number of civil society organisations have also commented on its impact on the work of the HRC.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the US decision to withdraw from the HRC will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

"The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

"President Trump," Roth added, "has decided that "America First" means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations."

HRW noted that the HRC has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counter-terrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the HRC for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said HRW, noting that this item was included when the Council's agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the Council.

The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

HRW noted that negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the Council's agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva.

By forfeiting its membership in the Council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments, said HRW.

No country has ever withdrawn from the Council after running for election to secure a seat, said HRW. "The Trump administration's withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else," said Roth.

"By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the Council addresses the world's most serious human rights problems," he added.

"The USA did not engage in the Human Rights Council under the Bush administration and only returned under the Obama Administration. The Council survived then and it will survive now," said Susan Wilding, Head of Geneva office, CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

"The worrying part is that global power dynamics have shifted significantly since then and with the US withdrawal, the vacuum will certainly be filled by Russia and China who have not demonstrated commitment to advancing the human rights discourse."

"This could negatively impact on Council priorities. Democratic states committed to protecting and promoting human rights will need to show increased commitment to safeguarding human rights norms," she added.

"Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the US claims to uphold. While the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice," said Salil Shetty, Secretary-General of Amnesty International.

"The US should urgently reverse this decision, which places it squarely on the wrong side of history. It is wilfully choosing to undermine the human rights of all people everywhere, and their struggles for justice," Shetty added.

"The withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council is unlikely in itself to have much impact on the Council, or human rights in the world. The real issue is the Trump administration's broader rejection of multilateralism and rule of law (international or otherwise), and how it acts in practice, both at home and abroad," said Matt Pollard, Senior Legal Adviser at the International Commission of Jurists.

"The withdrawal of the US is deeply regrettable. The constructive engagement of States with a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law is essential for peace, security and sustainable development," said Phil Lynch, Director at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

"While the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, it makes a significant contribution to protecting human rights, providing justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators," he added.

"By withdrawing, the US put appeasement of Israel before the need to protect and support those struggling for human rights and democracy around the world," said Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.