US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press announcing the US's withdrawal from the UN's Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington, US, June 19, 2018.
(photo credit: TOYA SARNO JORDAN / REUTERS)
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s controversial Agenda Item 7 is designed to undermine Israel’s existence, United States Ambassador Nikki Haley told The Heritage Foundation in Washington on Wednesday.
She spoke about her country’s withdrawal from the council after it failed to sway the 47-member body to undergo serious reform measures to prevent human rights abusers from hijacking its agenda.
Haley said that the UNHRC’s continued biased treatment of Israel is symptomatic of the group’s overall problem and pledged that the US would continue to work from the outside to reform the human rights body.
Prior to leaving the council, the US had unsuccessfully tried to eliminate Agenda Item 7, which mandates that the UNHRC must debate alleged Israeli human rights abuses at each season.
“This is the permanent part of the Human Rights Council agenda that is devoted exclusively to Israel,” Haley told the Heritage Foundation
“No other country – not Iran, not Syria, not North Korea – has an agenda item devoted solely to it. Agenda Item 7 is not directed at anything Israel does. It is directed at the very existence of Israel. It is a blazing red siren signaling the Human Rights Council’s political corruption and moral bankruptcy,” she said.
Prior to leaving the council, the US met with more than 125 member states about reform measures, Haley said. “In the end, the United States couldn’t convince enough countries to stand up and declare that the Human Rights Council was no longer worthy of its name,” she said.
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The “most obvious reason is that authoritarian regimes are happy with the status quo.” They seek council seats to protect their human rights efforts and those of their allies from scrutiny, she said.
Countries such as Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt “benefit from making a mockery of the Human Rights Council. So it’s no surprise that they openly resisted our efforts to reform it,” Haley said.
The US ambassador to the UN said that what was surprising was the pro-human rights countries and non-governmental groups that also refused to work with the US to reform the UNHRC, even as they acknowledged its flaws.
U.S. withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council, June 20, 2018 (REUTERS)
Those NGOs “came out publicly against our reforms telling other countries to vote against us. Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sided with Russia and China on a critical human rights issue,” Haley said.
They were afraid that countries who are known human rights abusers would push for retaliatory “hostile amendments” in the UN General Assembly, she said.
She charged that these NGOs also feared losing “institutional comforts” at the UN.
“They have big staffs and lots of relationships with the UN bureaucracy. Change is threatening to them,” Haley said.
Pro-human rights countries told the US privately that they too were “disgusted with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and the Congo serving on the Council, as well as the constant attacks on Israel.”
“But after months of agreeing with us on all of the flaws of the Human Rights Council, they would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors, and out of public view,” Haley said.
The US remains committed to fighting on behalf of human rights both globally and inside the UN, Haley said. “We just won’t do it inside a Council that consistently fails the cause of human rights.”
“Our withdrawal from the Human Rights Council does not mean that we give up our fight for reform. On the contrary, any country willing to work with us to reshape the Council need only ask,” she said. “Fixing the institutional flaws of the Human Rights Council was, is, and will remain one of the biggest priorities at the UN.”
She was particularly moved, she said, by the mothers and children she met in refugees camps in Ethiopia, Congo, Turkey and Jordan.
“As long as we have a voice, we must use it to advocate for these mothers and children. I will use my voice. Not just because I am a mother. Not just because I am an ambassador. But because I am an American. And America can no more abandon the cause of human rights than abandon itself,” Haley said.
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