Hours after the Trump administration announced the US would be withdrawing from UNESCO, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned the world body that all its agencies are under similar scrutiny.
The State Department announced Thursday that the US is withdrawing from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), effective December 31, 2018, citing financial considerations, the need for reform and the organization’s “continuing anti-Israel bias.” The Israeli government promptly announced that it would follow suit.
In a statement later Thursday, Ambassador Haley recalled that, “In July, when UNESCO made its latest outrageous and politically based decision, designating the Old City of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as part of Palestinian territory, the United States clearly stated that this decision would negatively affect our evaluation of our level of engagement with the organization.” Thursday’s decision to withdraw from UNESCO, she indicated, represented the result of that evaluation.
Furthermore, she warned, “The United States will continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens.”
Haley added that, “The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment. The Tomb of the Patriarchs decision was just the latest in a long line of foolish actions, which includes keeping Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors. Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, US taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”
In June, ahead of a trip to Israel, Haley said the US could withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council unless it carried out reforms, including by removing its built-in procedural mechanism to bash Israel.
Haley said the Council’s “relentless, pathological campaign” against a state with a strong human rights record “makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
In a speech to the Graduate Institute of Geneva, Haley said that if the Human Rights Council failed to make the required changes, the US would consider quitting the body and looking for ways to promote human rights in different frameworks.
The Council, she said, needs to abolish the infamous Agenda Item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”), which singles out Israel for perpetual censure. “There is no legitimate human rights reason for this agenda item to exist,” Haley said. “It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good, into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.”
Since 2007, Israel has been the only country whose alleged human rights abuses are regularly discussed in the framework of a single permanent item on the Human Rights Council’s agenda. Eliminating Agenda Item 7 would not mean that Israel was free from criticism, Haley noted, explaining that claims against the Jewish state could still be discussed under Agenda Item 4, where complaints against other states are dealt with. But Israel needs to be put on an “equal footing” with all other states, she said.
“The Council is no more justified in having a separate agenda item on Israel than it is on having one for the United States, or Canada, or France, or the United Kingdom. More appropriate would be to have an agenda item on North Korea, Iran, and Syria, the world’s leading violators of human rights,” she said.
“These changes are the minimum necessary to resuscitate the Council as a respected advocate of universal human rights,” she went on. The US “will not sit quietly while this body, supposedly dedicated to human rights, continues to damage the cause of human rights,” she warned.
Since the Human Rights Council was created, it has passed more than 70 resolutions criticizing Israel but only seven on Iran, Haley said. “This relentless, pathological campaign against a country that actually has a strong human rights record makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the Council itself.”
In that same speech in June, Haley also slammed the effort to create a blacklist of Israel companies that operate in the settlements.
“The Council’s effort to create a database designed to shame companies for doing business in Israeli-controlled areas is just the latest in this long line of shameful actions,” she said.
“Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights. It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement. It must be rejected.”
Without these two reforms — keeping the worst human rights offenders off the Council and ending its endemic anti-Israel bias — the US will consider quitting the 47-member body, she indicated.
While America does not seek to leave the Human Rights Council, it will do so if it fails to re-establish its legitimacy, she said. “Let the world be on notice: We will never give up the cause of universal human rights. Whether it’s here, or in other venues, we will continue this fight,” she said.
Earlier that same day, Haley addressed the body directly at the opening of its three-week summer session in Geneva, saying it was “essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility.”
Voicing concerns about the Council’s effectiveness, Haley said the US was “looking carefully at this council and our participation in it.”
Last month, with Haley alongside him, US President Donald Trump made his debut appearance at the United Nations at a forum devoted to the issue of reforming the UN. He urged the organization to reduce bureaucracy and costs while more clearly defining its mission around the world.
But while Trump chastised the United Nations, he also said then that the United States would “pledge to be partners in your work” in order to make the UN “a more effective force” for peace across the globe.
The United States is the largest contributor to the UN budget, reflecting its position as the world’s largest economy. It pays 25 percent of the UN’s regular operating budget and over 28 percent of the separate peacekeeping budget — a level of spending that Trump has complained is unfair.
The Trump administration has been conducting a review of the UN’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations, which cost nearly $8 billion a year. Haley has said that cutting their costs and making them more effective is a top priority.