Ambassador Nikki Haley’s decision this week to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is, no doubt, remarkable. The U.S. is the first nation in the body’s 12-year history to voluntarily remove itself from membership in the council while serving as a member. America’s current hostility towards this council is, however, neither unprecedented nor unwarranted. President George W. Bush’s White House refused to participate in the council for the same reasons that Haley invoked when she declined to legitimized this farcical institution: It is a haven for despots and bigots that shields the world’s worst human rights abusers from the scorn they deserve.
Some have alleged that the timing of Haley’s decision is conspicuous. “The move,” read the second paragraph of a CNN report on Haley’s decision, “came down one day after the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border as ‘unconscionable.’” But those who see some kind of connection between these two events do so only through inference, because no legitimate connection exists. America’s withdrawal from the council has been in the works for months. What’s more, Haley has been loudly telegraphing this move almost from the minute she took over the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
The UNHRC — the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which dissolved after it had lost much of its credibility — is plagued by many of the same problems that dogged its predecessor.
The UNHRC — the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which dissolved after it had lost much of its credibility — is plagued by many of the same problems that dogged its predecessor. States like Saudi Arabia, China, Algeria, Congo, Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, Russia and Qatar regularly manage to secure seats on the council. Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya was ejected from the organization only after it began slaughtering civilians in the streets. Well-documented practices like religious discrimination, the repression of women and minorities and a documented history of torturing political dissidents proved no obstacle to Libya’s ascension to membership.
Meanwhile, the UNHRC maintains a permanent agenda item — item seven — that compels it to issue regular condemnations of Israel’s conduct in its own defense. As such, the council has passed over 70 resolutions condemning Israel; 10 times as often as it has criticized Iran, a serial abuser of human rights and a state-sponsor of terrorism. Indeed, much of the Western world has a standing policy of boycotting the council every time the item comes up.
The council’s members elect people like Richard Falk, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist (Falk disputes this claim) and supporter of the terror group Hamas, to oversee the situation in the Palestinian territories. It also selects individuals like Jean Ziegler, the co-founder of the Orwellian “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights,” which was a real thing that has honored disreputable thugs and jingoists like Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Louis Farrakhan. One of the most recent dispatches from the council was a contemptible condemnation of the civilized world’s sanctions on the genocidal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. In short, the place is a sty.
America’s displeasure with the council has been equally clear. Haley has long contended that the United Nations Human Rights council does not deserve the legitimacy bestowed upon it by the presence of free and democratic nations like the U.S. In May of 2017, Haley savaged the council as “so corrupt” and argued that the United Nations Security Council was the only U.N. venue in which the matter of human rights might be addressed fairly. In June of that year, Haley also warned that the U.S. would consider withdrawing from the council if it did not “end its practice of wrongly singling out Israel for criticism.”
Haley has long contended that the United Nations Human Rights council does not deserve the legitimacy bestowed upon it by the presence of free and democratic nations like the U.S.
Speaking before the United Nations Security Council in September 2018, Vice President Mike Pence said that the “the Human Rights Council doesn't deserve its name.” In October, Haley again warned the council when she announced that the U.S. was pulling out of UNESCO, the United Nations body established for preserving antiquities that instead has devoted itself to repeatedly violating U.S. law and denying Israel ownership over its cultural heritage by calling Israel an “occupying power” in its own capital and drafting resolutions that refer to places like the Western Wall only by their Arabic names.
These efforts to de-legitimize the Jewish claim to their holiest landmarks even led U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to chastise the agency for appearing to “repudiate the undeniable common reverence for these sites.” Also like the UNRHC, UNESCO had a bad habit of shielding the world’s worst monsters from the consequences of their actions. In a statement, Haley singled out the fact that Syria’s Assad inexplicably remained a member of the “UNESCO human rights committee.”
Before Haley officially announced the decision to withdraw from the council, her decision was reported in the Associated Press — several days before the Trump administration’s decision to separate families at the border prompted criticisms of the administration from the U.N.’s top human rights official.
Not only is the decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council ethically justified and a restoration of the status quo, the administration has also spent well over a year methodically laying the groundwork for this exact action. No one can say the United Nations was not warned. That is, unless it was too busy burying its head in the sand.
Noah Rothman is the associate editor of Commentary Magazine.