Haley says US may leave UNHRC, warns against anti-Israel bias

US ambassador to the UN makes demand of rights body the day before leaving for Israel.

Nikki Haley blasts UN rights forum for "chronic anti-Israel bias" (credit: REUTERS)
America may leave the United Nations Human Rights Council unless it stops its chronic anti-Israel bias, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened on Tuesday, hours before leaving for Israel for a three-day visit.
The United States is increasingly suspicious that the UNHRC “is not a good investment of our time, money and national prestige,” Haley said in a evening speech to the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
“If the Human Rights Council is going to be an organization we entrust to protect and promote human rights, it must change. If it fails to change, then we must pursue the advancement of human rights outside of the council.”
Although Haley is stationed in New York, she has become one of the Trump administration’s most vocal critics of the UN body, which meets in Geneva.
She said the US would prefer to remain in the Human Rights Council, but can only do so if it undergoes a process of reform to reestablish its legitimacy. Haley then provided a list of US demands for reforms, including three items that related to Israel: abolish Agenda Item 7; reject the blacklist of companies doing business with the West Bank settlements; and halt the overwhelming focus on anti-Israel resolutions.
The council is mandated to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at every session under Agenda Item 7. There is no similar mandate against any other country. This includes the world’s leading violators of human rights Iran, North Korea and Syria. All other human-rights issues regarding those countries and others are reviewed under Agenda Item 4. Israel should be on “equal footing” with all other nations, she said.
Agenda Item 7 is a “scandalous provision that singles out Israel for automatic criticism, Haley explained. “There is no legitimate human rights reason for this agenda item to exist. It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.”
Criticism of Israel should occur in the same way that other countries are chastised, under Agenda Item 4, Haley said. “The council is no more justified in having a separate agenda item on Israel than it is on having one for the United States, or Canada, or France, or the United Kingdom.”
She dismissed as “shameful” the Human Rights Council’s efforts to create a blacklist of companies doing business with West Bank settlements.
The council is expected to authorize that list at its 36th session in the fall.
“Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights. It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
It must be rejected.”
In addition, Haley said the Human Rights Council must halt its habitual passage of anti-Israel resolutions. Since its creation in 2006, “the council has passed more than 70 resolutions targeting Israel.
It has passed just seven on Iran. This relentless, pathological campaign against a country that actually has a strong human rights record makes a mockery not of Israel, but of the council itself,” Haley said.
Looking at the UNHRC overall, Haley insisted that the election process for council seats must be reformed so that the worst human rights abusers don’t have seats on the council. Voting should be public and secret ballots abolished. “Countries that are willing to support human rights violators to serve on the Human Rights Council must be forced to show their faces.”
The selection should be competitive, she said, rather than relying on a predetermined slate of candidates.
The US is one of 47 member nations on the council.
Over half of those members failed to meet basic human rights standards as measured by Freedom House, including Venezuela, Cuba, China Burundi and Saudi Arabia, according to Haley.
The victims of the world’s most egregious human rights violations are too often ignored by the very organization that is supposed to protect them. The Human Rights Council has never condemned Venezuela and Cuba, she said. There has been no special meeting on the Russian occupation of Crimea, she said.
“The UNHRC has failed” and “tarnished” the cause of human rights, she said, explaining that it has become a place for political manipulation and hypocrisy rather than the promotion of universal values.
Earlier in the day she spoke at the opening of the council’s 35th session Geneva, telling the member states that they must address “chronic anti-Israel bias.”
During the 35th session, the council must also adopt the “strongest possible resolutions on the critical human rights situations in Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Belarus, and Ukraine, and [make sure] that it follows up to prevent further human rights violations and abuses in those countries,” said Haley.
“There is no room here for cultural relativism.”
Haley highlighted the human rights violations in Venezuela and said that if such abuses continued Venezuela should voluntarily step down from its seat on the UNHRC.”
It is considered unlikely that the US would leave the council during this session that ends on June 23. It is presumed that it would try to leverage its continued presence in the council with reforms particularly with regard to Agenda Item 7 and the blacklist.
On June 19, the council will hold a debate on alleged Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians under Agenda Item 7.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will also be raised on June 12 by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Dubravka Simonovic, who visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in September 2016. It was the first such visit in 11 years. Simonovic will issue separate reports on the status of Israeli and Palestinian women along with a general report for women in the rest of the globe.
Haley spoke out as UN officials issued harsh statements about the Israeli “occupation” as they marked 50 years to the Six Day War.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the UNHRC that the Palestinian people were marking “a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force.”
Israelis also deserve freedom from violence, he said, adding: “Maintain the occupation and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain.”
Once Haley lands in Israel, she will be accompanied throughout much of her visit by Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon. Danon issued a statement Tuesday calling Haley a “true friend of Israel.”
Haley, Danon added, “has stood by Israel for many years, and we saw her support as well over the last few days. Her visit is an important opportunity to deepen the cooperation between us and to present her with the challenges we face.
“We expect together to bring about significant changes in the UN,” he said.
On Wednesday morning she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by a separate meeting in the afternoon with President Reuven Rivlin.
She is then scheduled to go to Ramallah and meet with Palestinian Authority officials.
During her visit she is also scheduled to visit a refugee camp.
After returning from Ramallah, Haley is slated to take what US officials are calling a “private visit” to Jerusalem’s Old City. It is expected that she will visit the Western Wall. Last month Donald Trump prayed at the Western Wall becoming the first sitting American president to visit the ancient holy site where the Jewish Temple once stood.
On Thursday morning the ambassador will go to Bethlehem, followed by a helicopter ride with Danon that will take her to the border with Gaza in the south, and to the Lebanese and Syrian borders in the north. At each location she will be briefed on the security situation by senior IDF officials. She will also meet UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) officials on the Lebanese border, and UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) troops on the Golan.
Haley is scheduled to meet Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday, as well as visit Yad Vashem and – later in the afternoon – tour Tel Aviv, before leaving on Saturday.