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Human rights

US faces criticism on immigration, withdraws from UN human rights body

Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 19, 2018 announcing the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council
Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley speaks at the US Department of State in Washington DC on June 19, 2018 announcing the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP

There were mixed reactions to the United States’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide. Washington’s departure from the world human rights body coincides with increasing criticism on its treatment of immigrants along the US border with Mexico.


The US has been critical of the Council since its creation in 2006.

It consists of 47 members representing five continents and is the successor of the UN Human Rights Commission, that was said to be too politicised, and especially, too anti-Israel.

The council became totally politicized, totally distorted

US leave UN human rights council

Israel reacted happily to the US withdrawal from the body.

“The council became totally politicised, totally distorted,” says Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli academic with Bar Ilan University, reflecting the official view from the right-wing government of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Countries like Saudi Arabia, with a notoriously bad human rights record, are council members.

“This means a country that doesn’t honour human rights at all. So if this country can be member, in such an organisation, this organisation has no right to exist.

Israel itself left the organisation in 2012 after it had ordered an investigation of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, deemed illegal under international law.

“They single Israel out,” says Kedar, “ they don’t talk about Myanmar, Russia, Ukraine and other countries where human rights problems are way much more problematic than what it is in Israel with the Palestinians.

“So this shows this organisation is actually a tool in the hands of those who hate Israel,” he says.

But is the Council really so biased when it comes to Israel?

“It is true that politically speaking Israel is much more often criticised in resolutions of the Human Rights Council than any other state and that is certainly a bias,” admits Manfred Novak, a former UN Rapporteur on Torture, who worked directly under the mandate of the Human Rights Council..

“Israel violates human rights, yes, but there are also many other states that also violate human rights.

“But if you look at the countries which are most often criticised, and that have an own special rapporteur on this particular country, there is North Korea or Sudan or Eritrea, etc. It is not only the Occupied Palestinian Territories. So Israel is not the only state that is criticised,” he says, adding that “it is a situation we have to live if we accept that it is states who are the members of the Human Rights Council.”

Ironically, the US decision to leave the world’s human rights watchdog coincides with increasing criticism on the Trump administrations’ handling of immigrants at the US border with Mexico.

There, border police separate immigrant families and detain children in special camps.

“Politicians of the Democrat Party call it a blatant violation of human rights, with some comparing the system to that of the WW II Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland, and even influential republicans are starting to call for a halt, like former first lady Laura Bush (“Separating children from their parents at the border breaks my heart”) and current first lady Melania Trump (“we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with the heart,”) expressed their rejection of Washington’s anti-immigration politics.

In fact, that may make the US a topic of scrutiny by the human rights council it just left.

But first, the UN General Assembly will have to select a new member to fill the gap now left by Washington’s departure.

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