Haley slams UN for electing Congo to rights council despite abuses

US ambassador says HRC’s support for rights violators proves the 47-nation body ‘lacks credibility and must be reformed in order to be saved’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, September 15, 2017. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, September 15, 2017. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The United States and human rights groups sharply criticized Monday’s UN election for 15 new members of the Human Rights Council, singling out conflict-torn Congo’s victory despite accusations of serious rights abuses and an investigation by the UN’s top human rights body.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the election “yet another example of why the Human Rights Council lacks credibility and must be reformed in order to be saved.”

Haley previously dangled the possibility that the United States could quit the council during a visit to its Geneva headquarters in June, when she lambasted the 47-nation body as a “forum for politics, hypocrisy and evasion” that allows rights abusers to whitewash their images and foes of Israel to criticize the Jewish state unfairly.

In a statement after the 193-member General Assembly voted Congo onto the Human Rights Council as part of an uncontested African slate for a three-year term starting Jan. 1, Haley said the rights organization “cannot endure many more blows to its credibility before it is rendered absolutely meaningless.”

Haley called Congo “a country infamous for political suppression, violence against women and children, arbitrary arrest and detention, and unlawful killings and disappearances” and said its unopposed election is another spur to US-led efforts to reform the Human Rights Council.

She made no mention of a US withdrawal from the council. She said in June the United States wants to see two key reforms: the use of competitive elections to choose the council’s 47 members and removal of Israel as a permanent fixture on its agenda — the only country in the world that has a permanent spot.

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 Council’s agenda.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, is pictured on a TV screen during the opening of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 11, 2017. (Laurent Gillieron/ Keystone via AP)

“Countries that aggressively violate human rights at home should not be in a position to guard the human rights of others,” Haley said. “We need a unified voice of moral clarity with backbone and integrity to call out abusive governments. This election has once again proven that the Human Rights Council, as presently constituted, is not that voice.”

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, called Congo’s election “a slap in the face to the many victims of the Congolese government’s grave abuses across the country.”

African countries had four candidates for their continent’s four seats on the council and Congo got the lowest number of votes — 151. But that was still far about the 97 votes needed to win a seat.

The relatively low total shows President Joseph Kabila’s Congo “is fast becoming a pariah state. If there had been competition, it probably would have lost,” Charbonneau said.

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based rights group, singled out three of the winners — Congo, Qatar and Pakistan — for criticism, saying for the UN to elect them “as a world judge on human rights is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.”

The only contested slate was in Asia where six countries vied for four seats. Nepal topped the vote, followed by Qatar and Pakistan. Afghanistan, which got 130 votes, beat out Malaysia by a single vote for the fourth seat. The Maldives also lost.

UNESCO Bombshell

Last week, the US State Department announced it was 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.”

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.” The decision to withdraw from UNESCO, she indicated, represented the result of that evaluation.

A picture taken on October 12, 2017 shows the logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. (AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

Furthermore, she warned the UN of further US scrutiny, saying that Washington would “continue to evaluate all agencies within the United Nations system through the same lens.”

Haley added that the “extreme politicization” of UNESCO 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 Assad on a UNESCO human rights committee even after his murderous crackdown on peaceful protestors,” she said. “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.”

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