Addressing UN delegates in Geneva Tuesday, America’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley threatened that America might leave the UN Human Rights Council.
“If the Human Rights Council is going to be an organization we entrust to protect and promote human rights, it must change,” Haley said. “If it fails to change, then we must pursue the advancement of human rights outside the Council.”
Despite the harsh language, Haley emphasized that “America does not seek to leave the Human Rights Council. We seek to reestablish the Council’s legitimacy.”
Haley criticized the council for admitting “many of the world’s worst human rights offenders,” including Cuba, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.
Haley’s address expanded on the sentiments of the op-ed she published last week in the Washington Post.
Human rights groups condemned the hypocrisy of Haley and the Trump administration. Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “The United States must get its own house in order and make human rights at home a priority – then, it can begin to credibly demand the same of other countries abroad.”
Last year, human rights experts criticized Trump’s support for state-sponsored torture and his suggestion that a religious test should be imposed on immigrants, both of which constitute serious human rights violations. In January, President (then President-elect) Donald Trump’s policies earned him condemnation from Human Rights Watch. And the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights reported in February that the GOP’s proposed repeal of Obamacare protections would also be a clear violation of human rights.
But it’s not just the as-yet theoretical domestic human rights violations that makes Haley’s address so galling. Until recently, Trump has given almost unequivocal support to regimes that have some of the worst human rights records. For the entirety of last year, he plead for a closer U.S.-Russia relationship.
Cozying up to the Russians is a bad idea for lots of reasons, not least of which is that they interfered in our elections. (You may have heard about that.) But more to the point, Russia has been ruled for nearly two decades by strongman Vladmir Putin, whose government imposes severe restrictions on freedom of speech and locks up, harasses, and kills political critics.
Russia was actually booted from the UN Human Rights Council last year, largely over its continuing support for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Last year, while Assad was slaughtering his own people and fueling a flood of immigrants into Europe and Syria’s neighbors, Trump was on the campaign trail, where he explained that America had “bigger problems than Assad.”
Then in March of this year, Syrian forces launched a chemical attack against the town of Khan Shaykhun. According to some estimates, the attack left up to 100 dead. But just days before the attack, Haley herself said that it was not the U.S. policy to “sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
Trump’s indifference to human rights abuses abroad extends to Turkey, as well. Turkish president Recep Erdogan has been widely condemned for limiting freedom of the press, purging the government of political opponents, and banning public demonstrations. After Erdogan assumed even greater powers in a narrow April referendum that was widely seen as a power grab, Trump called to congratulate him. The only other leaders to do so hailed from Qatar, Djibouti, Guinea, and Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement.
If the U.S. does pull out of the UNHRC, it would only further damage American prestige and influence on the world stage. Jane Connors, International Advocacy Director for Law and Policy at Amnesty International in Geneva, said, “Criticizing a body from the outside is fine, but as commentators have shown, during the time the U.S. has been on the council it has been the first intergovernmental body to address Syria and has been strong on situations such as South Sudan and Burundi.”
Haley’s address to the UN – like Trump’s recent upbraiding of America’s NATO allies and his brash rejection of the Paris Agreement – is another embarrassing example of this administration’s knack for melodramatic grandstanding and its unique ability to isolate itself from the rest of the international community.
Featured image via YouTube.