Trump administration threatens to leave UN Human Rights Council
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Trump administration threatens to leave UN Human Rights Council

Tillerson warns of exit unless reforms are made, including body’s 'biased agenda against Israel'

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is seen on a TV screen while speaking during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas is seen on a TV screen while speaking during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP/Fabrice Coffrini)

The Trump administration is threatening to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, citing among other things the intergovernmental body’s “biased agenda against Israel.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter this week to nine nonprofit groups opposed to withdrawal — including one affiliated with the American Jewish Committee — in which he explained that the United States may quit the council unless it makes reforms, Foreign Policy reported.

In the meantime, Tillerson said the US would “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

Tillerson wrote that the US was concerned as well about the council membership of countries accused of human rights violations, such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson waits for a meeting with Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende at the US Department of State on March 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson waits for a meeting with Norway’s Foreign Minister Borge Brende at the US Department of State on March 1, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

The nine groups, which include the AJC-affiliated Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human rights, wrote a letter last month to Tillerson arguing that the US can better protect Israel from disproportionate criticism if it remains a member, according to Foreign Policy.

The Obama administration rejoined the Human Rights Council in 2009 after the Bush administration had withdrawn, partly as a means of exerting influence and partly because the US presence might mitigate some of the council’s harsh criticism of Israel.

Israel and its supporters have accused the Human Rights Council of disproportionately targeting the Jewish state with criticism while overlooking abuses by other countries. From the council’s creation in June 2006 through June 2016, over half of its resolutions condemned Israel, according to UN Watch, a watchdog that monitors criticism by the United Nations of the Jewish state.

Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asked the Trump administration to pull out of the Human Rights Council and conduct a review of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

The groups “do not fulfill the roles assigned to them,” Liberman told Tillerson, according to an Israeli Defense Ministry readout of the meeting, which took place March 8 in Washington, DC

Last month, Politico reported that the Trump administration was considering pulling out of the Human Rights Council.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also claimed credit for pushing the US toward an exit from the council.

In leaked recordings of a recent Likud faction meeting Netanyahu could be heard telling fellow party members that he suggested the diplomatic protest maneuver during his meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington in February.

“During the visit I raised the question whether the US should remain in the Human Rights Council,” the prime minister said.

Pressed by MK Anat Berko whether it was wise for the US to leave the body given the fact that it sided with Israel in votes there, Netanyahu replied, “No, it’s better to leave. These types of organizations must be delegitimized.”

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