Haley blasts human rights groups for ‘thwarting’ reform of UN council

A day after pullout from UNHRC over Israel bias, US ambassador says organizations undermined Washington by ‘blocking negotiations’

US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 20, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)
US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 20, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused human rights groups of undermining the United States and putting themselves “on the side of Russia and China” by seeking to prevent the US from reforming the UN Human Rights Council.

Haley criticized the non-governmental organizations in a letter, the day after she announced the US was exiting the council due to its “chronic bias against Israel.”

A group of 12 organizations, including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association – USA, said shortly after the US pullout that there were “legitimate concerns” about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a US exit.

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” the organizations said Tuesday in a joint statement.

Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: “All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”

A general view of the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018 in Geneva. (AFP Photo/Jean-Guy Python)

Haley said Wednesday that the organizations had previously written a joint letter to members of the Human Rights Council urging them to oppose a US-sponsored resolution to reform it. She said they tried to “block negotiations” and “thwart reform.” Haley said that was “a contributing factor” in the US decision to leave the council.

Haley urged the groups to play a constructive, not destructive, role in human rights in the future. She added the US will work with non-governmental groups that share US goals, “but not with ones who undermine them.”

“You should know that your efforts to block negotiations and thwart reform were a contributing factor in the US decision to withdraw from the council,” said Haley in her letter.

“You put yourself on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”

Haley was referring to the letter by 18 rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to United Nations member-states in May expressing concern that a US draft resolution at the General Assembly could weaken the rights council.

The rights groups had warned that the proposed changes could trigger “hostile amendments,” possibly from China and Russia, to undermine the work of the council which monitors human rights crises worldwide.

“Such hostile proposals could enjoy broad support and the US might not be able to stop them,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN director Louis Charbonneau.

In the end the United States did not push ahead with its proposals at the General Assembly because of lack of support from allies who warned that changes could have unwanted consequences or might fail to win adoption.

HRW executive director Roth argued that reforms were underway to improve the workings of the 47-nation Geneva-based council but that the United States “walked away from” that effort and chose instead to “theatrically” quit the council.

“By attacking and blaming NGOs for its own failure, the Trump administration is taking a page out of the book of some of the worst governments around the world,” said Charbonneau.

On Tuesday, Haley announced the United States was withdrawing from the Human Rights Council, branding the global body a “cesspool of political bias.”

“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 at a press conference announcing the move.

The council, she added, has a “chronic bias against Israel.”

Haley said that if the council reforms, the United States “would be happy to rejoin.”

Although the US could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a US official said it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately.” The official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks to reporters about North Korea during the daily press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, in Washington, June 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a “noble vision.”

But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo said. “The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”

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 infuriated the US — in particular, the council’s relentless focus on Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US move, branding the council “a biased, hostile, anti-Israel organization that has betrayed its mission of protecting human rights.”

Haley had threatened to withdraw from the council in June 2017 unless it reformed, including by removing its built-in procedural mechanism to bash Israel.

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