On The US Decision to Leave the United Nations Human Rights Council

From left to right: US Ambassador Nikki Hayley, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump

“For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers.” These were the words spoken by Nikki Halyey, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, on Monday afternoon of this week. Hayley appeared next to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. She was speaking of course, in reference to the highly controversial decision for the US to pull out of the UN Human Rights Council, in order to send a message of standing with Israel.

The idea of leaving was first floated one year ago, when it is was made clear that if, in one year, the US did not feel the Council had cleaned up its act to address the hypocrisy of human rights abuses within the Council, the US would strongly consider quitting.

The UN Human Rights Council, along with the UN in general, has a history of turning a blind eye to several of its member states with horrendous human rights records, including several Arab League States who are staunchly opposed to Israel’s existence, such as Iraq, Yemen and Egypt.

Alongside a powerful block of allies within the Muslim and Arabic speaking world, a powerful narrative has played out within the Human Rights council, depicting Israel as a villainous nation, strife with human rights abuses, particularly within Palestinian occupied territory.

This narrative does not however recognize the leg up Israel has on a handful of UNHRC member states and Arab League members. Unlike many of its opposing border states, Israel is considered among the countries within the Middle East region to be a leader in progressivism. Israel is ranked as a free nation and holds a grade of 79 (100 being the freest) country according to Freedom House’s 2018 freedom scores by country. Nearly all anti-Israel states within the UNHCR are ranked as only partly free or not free at all.

Israel is most progressive in its legal standing on gay rights and freedom of education to women and girls. The majority of Israel’s female population has access to educational enrollment, and the unemployment rate for women in Israel in 2017 was 4.4% (World Bank Group) The same cannot be said of most MENA (Middle East and North African) nations.

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association: Carroll, A. and Mendos, L.R., State-Sponsored Homophobia 2017: A world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition (Geneva; ILGA, May 2017).

As the first member to withdraw from the Council, that meets triennially, the decision received criticism from various international bodies, such as the European Union. However, it should be noted that this is not the first time the US has opted out of participation within the Council. It also did so under previous US President George Bush when the Committee was created in 2006. However, many players on the world stage warn that the move could bolster growing isolationist policies under President Trump and thus threaten the United States standing as a world leader.