The US and the UNHRC | Sarah Stook

To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion;

Donald Trump is no stranger to controversy. Controversy is in fact his best friend.

Though it was United States Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that stood in front of the assembled press and announced their intention to pull the country out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Trump is the one who has received all of the press attention. In her statement, Ambassador Haley blasted the council as ‘hypocritical and self-serving,’ all whilst pointing out the strong anti-Israel bias from it. She and Pompeo left instead of answering journalist questions, but it was done. Twitter outpoured. Many were horrified, especially in light of the controversial practices of United States immigration services. For a number of critics, it was Trump trying to cover his own ass from criticism. Legislators, overtly political celebrities and even the average Joe voiced criticism of the President and his action in pulling out one of the most important parts of the United Nations.

The United States has always had a fragile relationship with the UNHRC.  During the Bush administration, the country boycotted the council. It was founded in 2006, just into Bush’s second term and for many of the same reasons as Trump, they decided not to be a part of the always polarising council. When Obama was elected, he brought the country back in. It lasted just under a year under the Trump administration, though it could re-enter- probably unlikely though. So was Trump right to pull the country out to much storm and controversy?

Short answer: yes.



  • When Haley called the UNHRC ‘hypocritical,’ she was more than just a little correct. The UNCHR is filled with countries whose human rights situation is absolutely dire. Minorities are persecuted. Religions are banned. Women are oppressed. Gays are stoned. Civil liberties are non-existent. Yet, the UN takes a Kumbaya attitude towards these places, allowing them to take their seat and judge others on their human rights record. Only today, a report into a United Arab Emirates run prison in Yemen revealed that the male prisoners were raped and torture, often imprisoned for things such as speaking out against the government- though that treatment would not be ok for any crime. The UAE was part of the UNCHR during the 2012-2015 cycle, obviously a pinnacle of great human rights record. In the UNCHR, the seats are distributed by quota for each region, with Africa and Asia getting 13 seats. These are the regions that tend to be worse for human rights (though human rights violations can be universal), and that shows in the current group. At the time of writing, members include the liberal and freedom loving Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and the UAE.  Whether it’s a lack of freedom of religion or inability to give minorities rights, the fact that these countries have representation is disrespectful to those who have suffered greatly under those regimes. The quote at the top is part of the UN charter, yet those who happen to be the ‘wrong’ kind of person are not given the human rights all deserve by those who sit pretty at the UNHCR. When Saudi Arabia was given a seat, many rightly got angry at the decision and questioned the UN, yet their pleas fell upon deaf ears. The type of people who would protest if the Queen invited the King of Saudi Arabia or the Emir of the UAE instead allowed this practice to continue. According to the quoted part of the charter, they encourage fundamental freedoms for Again, Haley was right on the money when she said they made a ‘mockery of human rights.’


  • Is Israel perfect? No. Does criticism of the Middle Eastern country come far too often? Yes. In fact, the UN is so excessive in its criticism of Israel that it isn’t hard to question why the UNCHR acts in such a manner. One hundred percent of Human Rights Council resolutions have been regarding Israel and considering the other 200 odd countries in the world, many of whom are very flawed, this shows a fragrant disregard for human rights unless it concerns a certain country. Israel is also permanently on the agenda. Whilst the council has various experts for certain conflicts and issues, all but one have expiration date- and we can guess which issue this person is an expert on. On top of that, in its inaugural year, the council voted on Item 7, where alleged Israeli human rights violations must be discussed every session. Yes, a country which is highest on the Democracy Index for its region and is also higher on every other geopolitical list has to be discussed. As said before, in no way is Israel a perfect country but pretty much all countries have done some terrible things. The UN may be harsh on Israel, but the council is even harsher.

Fails to Uphold Human Rights

Of the current members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, here are the human rights situations there:

  • LGBT rights- Illegal in Angola; Nigeria; Senegal; Egypt; Tunisia; Burundi; Ethiopia; Kenya; Togo; Afghanistan; Pakistan; Qatar (good luck for the World Cup in 2022); Saudi Arabia; UAE. Death penalty for LGBT in: Afghanistan; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; UAE.
  • Marital Rape is legal in- The DRC; Senegal; Egypt; Tunisia; Ivory Coast; Ethiopia; Afghanistan; UAE.
  • Classed as ‘Hybrid’ or ‘Authoritarian’ in the Democracy Index-Angola; DRC; Nigeria; Egypt; Rwanda; Burundi; Ivory Coast; Ethiopia; Togo; Afghanistan; Nepal; Pakistan; Qatar; China; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Kyrgyzstan; UAE; Ukraine; Cuba; Venezuela; Georgia.
  • Scored Less than 50 on Corruption Perception Index- Angola; Congo; Nigeria; Senegal; Egypt; Tunisia; South Africa; Burundi; Ivory Coast; Ethiopia; Kenya; Togo; Afghanistan; Nepal; Pakistan; China; Iraq; Saudi Arabia; Kyrgyzstan; Mongolia; Philippines; Ukraine; Croatia; Hungary; Mexico; Peru; Brazil; Ecuador; Panama;

Some readers will question why the United States simply did not decide to stay in order to reform the group. That is not a lone thought, many have suggested such a thing- it’s a valid thought. One supposes that could happen but what is the point if there is absolutely no way reform can happen? The US is one of many, many countries in the UN and until recently one of several in the council. America is not a popular country and even if it has some allies in wanting reform, there is still every chance of it being blocked by enemies or those with different agendas. As much as it’d be great if the UN could be reformed and become a genuinely competent organisation, it is not going to happen. As Haley said, the country will re-enter if reform occurs which is a perfectly acceptable statement. Even close allies, however, will stay in even if reform is needed- see Boris Johnson’s tweet on the matter. Many wanted to reform the European Union but still chose to vote leave in 2016. It is a similar matter with the UNHRC.

Co-operation is so desperately needed in an age of the world tearing itself apart, but co-operation can only occur when all involved benefit. The United States does not benefit, neither do Israel or any of the billions let down by poor human rights in their country. When the US walked away from the council, both literally and metaphorically, it was for all of the right reasons.

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