UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The world is left wondering what the future of the U.S. as a democratic leading power looks like, considering they have now officially left the UN Human Rights Council.

As the Trump Presidency continues to spring one surprise after another, the world is left wondering what the future of the U.S. as a democratic leading power looks like, considering they have now officially left the UN Human Rights Council.

The United States of America, North Korea, Iran, and Eritrea, which of these things is not like the other? One is arguably the most dangerous dictatorship in the world, another is an extremist Islamic autocracy with little respect for human rights, and another is a totalitarian government with a history of human rights violations, and the last – is the United States of America. The so-called leader of the free world has officially become one of only four nations who are not part of the UN Human Rights Council – an intergovernmental coalition dedicated to addressing and protecting human rights worldwide.

Why did the US leave the UNHRC?

The UN envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, in a letter outlining the US’ grievances and why they chose to leave the UNHRC, calls the UN Human Rights Council a “dysfunctional human rights body”. She claims the decision to leave is based off a failure of the UNHRC to meet the US’s aforementioned “meaningful reforms”, listed below:

  1. Improving the quality of Council membership
  2. Removing the anti-Israel bias from the Council’s agenda

The two outlined “meaningful reforms” seem to appear more like efforts to thwart the UNHRC in a direction that helps champion the US’ own political agenda, more than a principled effort to improve the UN. Only adding fuel to the fire is the glaring fact that the decision to leave the UN came in the wake of overwhelming criticism of the US’ no-tolerance immigration policy that was separating children from their parents and placing them in makeshift shelters. Just a coincidence? That the US decides to leave arguably the most important human rights coalition in the world just as it is being condemned worldwide for its unabashedly inhumane immigration policies? I’ll leave that to the readers to decide, but personally, I’ve got an inkling of a suspicion that the timing was not accidental. Without a doubt, the US has been a leading and integral part of the UN since its formation. Having world powers participate in the UN has been necessary to sustain its very existence, especially in the formative years. However, now, as the US begins to take on increasingly isolationist and self-benefiting policies, it appears that this commitment to protecting international values of human rights, peace, and democracy, have been far from unwavering.

Was there any justification for the US’ decision to leave?

Many speculate that the primary reason for the decision to leave was the scrutiny targeted at Israel over the Palestinian occupation. Much of the scrutiny is warranted, as many have picked out in the past, Israel is overwhelmingly targeted while other members, with often equally (or worse) harrowing human rights track records, are the ones doing the accusing. The argument here is that the member countries accusing Israel of its abysmal human rights record, countries like Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia, are criticizing Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. And of course, the US has ulterior motives for keeping close with Israel. There is a huge ally to be had with the only democracy in the Middle East, given many of Israel’s neighbors are the highest on US’ to-watch list. Even if you argue that the decision was justified, this was by no means the right way to address it. The United States, who claims to be a world leader in nearly every regard, has just demonstrated to the world a fantastic example of how to avoid your problems by running away from them. If the US sees a structural problem with the UNHRC and how it functions, its role as a ‘world leader’ is to address the problem and take every means necessary to bring it to the forefront of discussions. Simply leaving the UNHRC solves absolutely nothing and is a very disappointing diplomatic measure taken by the US, which only reflects the self-interested foreign and domestic policies taken on by the Trump administration.

Human Rights Are Not A Political Tool

My personal biggest criticism with this entire situation is the fact that the very serious and very important subject of human rights has been thwarted into a political tool. Human rights should not be manipulated to serve any country’s political interest, and although it is near impossible to free the UNHRC from all political bias, given the very political nature of many human rights crimes, it is very shameful that it’s come to the point of one of the world’s leading democratic powers leaving the human rights commission to make a political statement. A commitment to human rights should always be unwavering, and I’d hope the President and government of the United States would recognize that.  

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