In Protest US Withdrawing from UN Human Rights Council

This series of articles giving a timeline of the arguments, is offered as a public service and is not for profit. sn

Trump administration will withdraw US from UN human rights council, report says

The US Ambassador Nikki Haley said last year that the group has a ‘chronic anti-Israel bias’

 US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley leaves after addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland 6 June 2017. ( REUTERS/Denis Balibouse )

President Donald Trump‘s administration is said to be set on withdrawing the US from the United Nations Human Rights Council. which meets for a new session next week

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has accused the 47-member organisation based in Geneva of “chronic anti-Israel bias” since she came into office last year and according to a number of reports, the withdrawal is “imminent,” particularly after UN’s recent condemnation of Israel’s violence against Palestinians in Gaza

Diplomats believe it is a case of when, not if, the US withdraws according to Reuters, although the State Department did not say in a statement that a decision had been made. 

United Nations condemns Israel’s use of force in Gaza

A State Department official told The Independent but that the US “wants a Human Rights Council that fulfils its purpose as the premier international focal point for human rights issues”. 

The official said that “at its best” the Council compels violators to act towards “positive action,” however they noted that ” all too frequently, it fails to address critical situations for political reasons – and undermines its own credibility”. 

The human rights body was formed in 2006, but was shunned administration of President George W Bush. In 2009, President Barack Obama reversed thet decision after taking office.

US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley lashes out at UN hypocrisy

The council’s critical stance of Israel has long been a contentious issue for the US, Israel’s main ally. Ms Haley had said last year at this time that Israel is the “only country permanently on the body’s calendar”.

The US ambassador had at the time also called on the council to vote on resolutions against VenezuelaSyria, Eritrea, Belarus, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo and opposed a periodic review of Israel’s human rights.

The council has a permanent item on the agenda, item seven, looks at suspected violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, which Washington wants removed.

In the last year, that stance may have become more entrenched as the US officially recognised the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

A withdrawal would mark the latest move by Mr Trump’s administration to snub elements of the international community. The US also last month that it would be pulling away from the six-party Iran nuclear deal, which had provided a reduction of sanctions on Tehran in exchange for the country halting development of its nuclear weapons programme.

The US has also already said it will withdraw from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) citing an anti-Israel bias. 

Nikki Haley says no country would have used more restraint than Israel in killing 60 protesters

Anjali Dayal, an international security professor at Fordham University, told The Independent that the US move is “not a surprise” given Ms Haley’s consistent stance regarding the council and Israel. Washington has also repeatedly accused the council of shielding the repressive regimes it should be condemning, allowing such nations to join the body and then potentially use it to thwart scrutiny.

Mr Trump has also long been critical of multilateral organisations, including the UN as a whole, as well.

However, Ms Dayal said the US is not without “valid criticisms” of the body. There are “human rights abusers with seats on the Council,” Ms Dayal explained.

But, Ms Dayal argued the issue was “not an unknown” drawback of the council. Ms Haley knew this was a problem coming into office since activists, observer groups, and smaller nations have complained about differing regional processes that allow it to happen for years.


But, Ms Haley is “going much more the Bush administration route,” Ms Dayal said. But the US “will have to be in the room” in order to make any significant change to the council.

The State Department official told The Independent the US “will continue to discuss and work with other UN member states for significant reform of the [Council], and seek to advance human rights wherever and whenever we can,” but did not elaborate on what kind of action or negotiating that would entail. 


Never in the 12 years of the council, has a serving member dropped out voluntarily. Seven years ago, in the midst of the Arab Spring, Libya was kicked out with the approval of the UN General Assembly.

The 47-member council opens the second of its three annual sessions Monday, when UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein makes his last address to a regular meeting before stepping down in August.

In terms of the options the US has, secretary of state Mike Pompeo could opt for a full withdrawal from the council— the option preferred by Ms Haley — or remain in the room as an observer, without the right to vote on resolutions.

Associated Press contributed to this report

UN: US Retreat from Rights Body Self-Defeating

Other Countries Need to Step Up at Human Rights Council

 (Geneva) – The United States government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017.

 © 2017 Reuters

The Human Rights Council was created by the UN General Assembly in 2006 as the UN’s top human rights body. While it has its shortcomings – including the participation of persistent rights violators such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela – the council plays a vital role in addressing serious rights abuses around the world. It has initiated investigations into rights violations in Syria, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and addresses key topics such as migration, counterterrorism and protecting women, LGBT people, people with disabilities, and others from violence and discrimination.

The US has long criticized the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council. The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Occupied Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Negotiations about potential reform or consolidation of the council’s agenda and work program are ongoing in Geneva. The United Kingdom, which largely agrees with the US position on item 7, has announced that it will vote against all resolutions brought under that agenda item unless reforms are carried out, but it has not threatened to leave the council.

By forfeiting its membership in the council with almost 18 months remaining on its term, the US will be removing itself from key issues that could affect allied governments. No country has ever withdrawn from the council after running for election to secure a seat. It is unclear which country would take the open seat left by the US. The UN resolution creating the council provides that any successor would be another country from the group that includes Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.

While the US government’s engagement with the council has been uneven, the US has helped shape some of the body’s decisions with the greatest impact, including to establish a commission of inquiry into grave human rights violations in North Korea. The US withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms.

Since rejoining the Human Rights Council in 2010, the US has played a leading role on initiatives related to Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Following its decision to withdraw, the US may continue to advance these priorities as a non-member, or may choose to disengage entirely. But quitting the council will not allow the US to shield itself from the scrutiny of the international community, Human Rights Watch said. The UN will continue to consider a broad range of rights issues and initiatives, and conduct its Universal Periodic Review, which applies to all UN member countries.

“The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy in which the US defends Israeli abuses from criticism above all else,” Roth said. “By walking away, the US is turning its back not just on the UN, but on victims of human rights abuses around the world, including in Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Myanmar. Now other governments will have to redouble their efforts to ensure that the council addresses the world’s most serious human rights problems.”


US to boycott UN meeting to discuss Israeli and Palestinian conflict, citing anti-Israel bias

US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the US will vote against any item the Human Rights Council puts forth on Israel 

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to boycott any discussions of Israel at Human Rights Council ( EPA )

The Trump administration is boycotting the Human Rights Council, saying the organisation is biased against Israel. 

The Human Rights Council, a 47-member body within the United Nations in Geneva that is tasked with protecting human rights, has a permanent agenda item regarding Israel and the Palestinian territories. 

The Council is currently in its 34th regular session but US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley issued a statement saying the US feels the Council is being unfair because Israel is the “only country permanently on the body’s calendar.” 


She said that “other than to vote against the outrageous, one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions,” the US will not discuss the “so called” item on the US ally in the middle east. 

CBS reports that targeting of Israel has “decreased in recent years.”

After the US joined the Council in 2009, the number of resolutions passed against Israel “went down to 40 percent, and further decreased to less than 20 percent in 2016.” 

The US still retains is right to vote on other agenda items the Council discusses. 

The State Department’s acting spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement that it “does not serve the interests of the Council to single out one country in an unbalanced matter.” 

He called the permanent agenda item on Israel “among the largest threats to the credibility of the Council.” 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering whether to withdraw completely from the Council because of the Israeli agenda item.

As the UN Human Rights Council elections draw close, we have to ask, is it still fit for purpose?

The lack of action in both Venezuela and the Philippines is of no surprise considering that the actions of the Council are dictated by its membership, which currently includes both of these countries

The United Nations Human Rights Council has a varied and controversial membership ( REUTERS/Denis Balibouse )

The world has never had greater need of a robust human rights community. Despite this, whether in Syria, North Korea or countless other instances, it is clear that the international community is failing to live up to its high ideals. Nothing exemplifies this failure more than the current state of the UN’s principal human rights body, the Human Rights Council (HRC).

At the time of its creation in 2006, many had high hopes that the Human Rights Council could be a stepping stone to a more robust application of human rights standards. Yet, sadly, as the Council enters its second decade, it remains beset with many problems. Allegations of selectivity and politicisation continue to undermine its credibility. On many of the most pressing, human rights issues of the day, the Council has failed to take necessary steps or worse still, has not responded at all.

Think, for example, of the Philippines, where the Duterte government has launched a violent campaign of extrajudicial killings and killed over 7000. The Council has done nothing for to stand up for these people or their rights. The story is much the same for the people of Venezuela, whose government remains without official censure from the Council, even as they preside over mass-hunger and increasingly violent political repression.


This is of no surprise considering that the actions of the Council are dictated by its membership, which currently includes both the Philippines and Venezuela.

They are not the only members with dubious human rights records. Egypt’s continued authoritarian drift did not prevent it from being re-elected to the Council in 2016. Saudi Arabia, one of the most repressive states on the planet, has managed to retain its seat for all but one of the Council’s 11 years of existence. Membership of the council is supposed to be a hard-earned privilege, with states earning their places by defending their own human rights records and pledging to do even more. Yet the sad reality is that states often gain seats automatically as a result of backroom deals to avoid elections.

These elections do have the potential to implement change and condemn human rights violations, as was clearly demonstrated when Russia unexpectedly lost its seat to Croatia in 2016. When competitive elections happen, membership standards rise.

However, things are not looking so good for this year’s elections. Just last month France became the latest country to decide that it would not run for a seat on the Council, meaning that this year, four out of the five regional blocs represented will not face any competition. Within those four groupings, there will be no scrutiny and the elections themselves will do nothing to raise membership standards. In other words, the elections will fail, yet again, to serve their intended purpose.

United Nations elects Saudi Arabia to women’s rights body

As organisations like AmnestyHuman Rights Watch and Five Rights have made clear, the membership represents one of the most serious challenges to better human rights policy.

The international community is well aware of the problem the Council faces. At the most recent session in June, a group of 48 states said as much. In a powerful joint statement, a diverse coalition of states reaffirmed their commitment to making membership of the Council a privilege, not a right.

Although it was encouraging to hear a call to action from some of the world’s most powerful states, this by itself it is not enough. Competitive elections and the real scrutiny that comes with them remain the exception, not the norm. It would be naïve to take these countries at their word. They too have been guilty of hypocrisy in the recent past; they too require pressure to consistently respect human rights.

Rodrigo Duterte says he ‘doesn’t give a s*** about human rights’ as 3,500 killed in war on drugs

The task then, for those who want to see a stronger UN system, is to identify a way of providing that pressure and scrutiny. In part, this must involve the efforts of ordinary people. It is striking how little scope there is for ordinary people to get involved in the world’s principal human rights forum.

Though the HRC has gone some way to make more of its workings more public, it remains states that speak on behalf of their people. In legislatures and decision-making bodies around the world, the Internet has provided the means for narrowing the gap between concerned citizens and the decision makers who claim to speak for them. As people like Tom Fletcher have been arguing, there is no reason international affairs shouldn’t reflect this trend too.

Imagine how different decisions taken by the Human Rights Council might look if those voting felt the eyes of the world on their backs. We know that the challenge exists. So too do the means of addressing it.

The task now is for an imaginative campaign to fill this gap and rise to the challenge of proving that, though distant, ordinary people can reclaim their rights at the UN. 

Sir Graham Watson is the former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the European Parliament and Chairman of the Committee on Citizens’ Freedom and Rights

More about: | Human Rights Council | United Nations | Venezuela | President Duterte


Dissenting Opinion

June 29, 2018 4:22PM EDT Dispatches

US Turning Its Back on Human Rights

Withdrawal from UN Body Mirrors Abuses at Home

Jasmine L. Tyler

Advocacy Director, US Program@jazzyjtyler

Thomas J. Rachko, Jr.

Associate, US Program@ThomasRachkoJr

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press together with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the U.N’s Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced last week the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body. The US was midway through a three-yearterm.

The US cited for its decision the council’s perceived bias toward Israel and a lack of institutional credibility. But the departure symbolizes a retreat from leadership on human rights abroad as human rights conditions at home have come under sharp criticism.

The decision came just days after the UN high commissioner for human rights denounced the US practice of forcibly separating children from their migrant and asylum seeker parents at the US border.

The US has also sought to increase the number of immigrants detained by requesting additional funding to increase enforcement and immigration detention facility capacity. In a recent joint report, Human Rights Watch demonstrated the fatal consequences of systemic inadequate and substandard medical care in immigration detention. The administration’s budget proposals would put even more people at risk in immigration detention, including small children and families.

On criminal justice, the administration has taken actions bound to reduce human rights protections by reversing federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy for housing transgender inmates in places where they would be safe, moving to revive the harmful war on drugs, and setting back police accountability mechanisms.

The Trump administration has also sought to scale-back voting rights and disparage peaceful protest, contending that football players who kneel during the national anthem “shouldn’t be in the country.”

Instead of addressing rights violations linked to national security, Trump signed an executive order to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open and nominated Gina Haspel, who was closely involved in US government-sponsored torture and the destruction of evidencedocumenting it, to direct the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Trump administration needs to take responsibility for its own rights-abusing policies, consider how to turn around its approach, and take steps to win back credibility for human rights leadership around the world.

The United States and the Human Rights Council – a tumultuous relationship?



President Trump and Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley have been calling for the US to leave the Human Rights Council. Why is its membership controversial? What reason is there to stay? An interview with Senior UN Advocate Laila Matar from Human Rights Watch.

13 September 2017

by Sophia Oster

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a nonprofit human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe with its headquarters in New York City. Established in 1978, HRW publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries.[i] Laila Matar, Senior UN advocate at HRW, monitors the Human Rights Council (HCR) and works together with delegates of the HRC and “regional groups like the African Union and the European Union, financial institutions, and corporations”[ii] to identify opportunities for change when it comes to human rights.

HBS: The Human Rights Council has received a lot of criticism since its establishment in 2006, some even call it obsolete. Looking at statistics, the number of resolutions increased immensely over the past years. In 2006 for example, it adopted 43 resolutions and 89 in 2015. The number of Commissions of Inquiry (international investigative bodies that respond to situations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law) rose to 16.[iii] Do these statistics say anything about the Council’s efficiency? How do you measure progress?

Laila Matar: The Human Rights Council (HRC) was established in 2006 to replace the previous Commission on Human Rights. Part of the reason why this Commission failed, was because it was seen as being too politicized. The composition of the current Council with 47 member states,  elections and a certain standard for membership that was set when the Council was established, were meant to make it a less politicized body. I think the trend you described in it having become more efficient, is generally true. Of course there are very tense and difficult situations- for example, in sessions and hearings in which the geopolitical situation prevents the HRC from collaborating and reaching consensus on key issues. On the other hand, there have been times, like right after the Arab spring, where there was an opening for cooperation, meaning more flexibility and less bloc politics. While I therefore agree that the HRC has been getting more efficient since its establishment, it’s not necessarily a linear progress.

HBS:  The establishment of the Commission of Inquiry for North Korea has been praised by human rights advocates. Even though rapporteurs, who are supposed to be watching the situation on the ground, aren’t allowed to enter the country, more and more details about the human rights abuses in North Korea are coming to the surface. Can you name some other examples of the Council’s work?

Laila Matar: Yes, there have been concrete initiatives that are important, as you mentioned the North Korea Commission of Inquiry. Another example is the work the HRC has done on South Sudan. In 2016, they established a three person Commission on Human Rights in Sudan, a new type of mechanism for the Council. These persons are tasked with monitoring and reporting on the situation in South Sudan and to provide guidance on transitional justice, accountability, etc. They came back with a strong report, which led to a renewal and an expansion of their mandate. This means, we now have a body that is mandated with full investigative functions to collect evidence on crimes and violations committed in South Sudan, to clarify responsibility and to identify perpetrators. Without the Council, we might not be able to get this information. Another example is the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which is currently undertaking its work and about to report back in September. The Commission was established after an initial report that was mandated by the Council that found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Burundi. This is an illustration of a situation where the Council actually responded relatively fast. I could name even more of those situations where the HRC was able to engage while other UN bodies such as the Security Council did not, either because of competing priorities or because of the veto of powerful members.

HBS: Coming back to its flaws, the majority of members aren’t democracies and many are accused of committing human rights abuses themselves. A mechanism that was introduced within the Human Rights Council in 2006 is the so called “Universal Periodic Review (UPR).” According to the Council’s website, it’s a “state-driven process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.”[iv] During those reviews, every member state can make recommendations regarding the human rights situation of the reviewed countries. The countries receiving the most recommendations from 2008 until 2014 were: Cuba, Iran, Egypt, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Vietnam. Do these countries also adapt recommendations or is this just a farce? And addressing the criticism behind it, are these topics controversial?

Laila Matar: I think there is a whole scope of topics being addressed at the Council. The UPR is one mechanism of the Council. We definitely have a lot of concerns about the direction the UPR is taking. Unfortunately, many countries use it to commend their allies for imagined human rights progress that is simply not there. It’s certainly true that it is easier to get critical states to address issues like children’s rights and women’s rights, which are of course important, but they shy away from other controversial issues. When it comes to the HRC more generally, I think we have resolutions across the board. Women’s rights can indeed be very controversial when it comes to reproductive rights for instance. The most controversial work of the HRC has unfortunately to do with country specific engagement. That’s where you see the biggest polarization of HRC member states. But human rights violations don’t happen in a vacuum, they happen within national borders, which is why the most critical function of the HRC is addressing situations in specific countries.

HBS: How are autocratic states like the Republic of Congo, Cuba and Egypt addressed in the Council?

Laila Matar: One main problem at the Council is that powerful states shield themselves and their allies from being scrutinized with regards to their human rights situation. I agree with the criticism that it’s certainly quite hurtful to the credibility of the HRC to have countries like China, Saudi Arabia and others as members. We are very concerned about that and continuously encourage UN members to prevent some of the biggest violators of human rights from joining, for example by having competitive elections. That said, as much as it is ironic to have countries like Burundi as members, despite its membership, the HRC has been able to provide attention to the situation of human rights there (see previous answer), even if the outcome isn’t always consensual. In other words, the overall picture is not black and white. Yes, it embarrassing that the membership of the HRC is as weak as it is, but it is still able to address serious situations.

HBS: And what advantages do countries like Saudi Arabia, which are often accused of human rights violations, get out of their membership in the HRC?

Laila Matar: They are  trying to protect themselves by having more influence with their vote at the HRC. Every time the HRC has tried to address the human rights situation in Yemen, for example, Saudi Arabia has done its best to block any efforts, given their involvement in Yemen. Therefore, part of it is to shield themselves from scrutiny and knowing they can influence outcomes while being a member, while another part of it is the positive reputational image that comes with a membership.

HBS: Taking a look at the role of the Unites States in the Council, it has changed with every administration so far. While the Bush administration refused to join, the Obama administration was convinced that a membership would be useful to influence the agenda. President Trump is still considering leaving it, while the ambassador Nikki Haley announced a close scrutiny of the Council. The US criticizes that way the Council is elected, (“by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballot”[v] arguing that it’s not sufficiently addressing country specific human rights, and that it’s overly focusing on Israel. Do you think the United States should leave the Council?

Nikki Haley, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations in New York at a 35th Session of the Human Rights Council. 6 June 2017 – Creator: UN Geneva. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.Laila Matar: I think it would be bad timing and very ill advised for the US to leave the HRC for two reasons. First of all, the US actually has, despite its imperfect record as a Council member, played a crucial role in shaping some important outcomes at the Council on countries like North Korea, South Sudan and China. They have often played a bridging role between regional groups. Secondly, we believe that the HRC, despite its imperfect record, still has accomplished a lot. I mentioned some examples earlier. We don’t entirely disagree with the criticism by the US administration, but we think the answer to it is more engagement, not less. The US is better placed to stay in the HRC and try to change it from the inside rather than withdrawing at such a critical time.

HBS: Focusing on Israel, this is one of the main concerns originating from the establishment of the so called “item 7” in 2006. This item solely addresses Israel/Palestine, a topic that concerns almost a half of all resolutions passed since the establishment of the HRC. What does this mean for the agenda of the Council and how are the members reacting to it?  

Laila Matar: Item 7 is part of the ten point agenda of the HRC, established when the institution was formed in 2006. For it to change, the Council would have to open itself up to proper reform, something that is planned to take place in 2021. Of course, nothing stops the Council from a reform at any given moment, but for this mechanism, consensus is needed. At Human Rights Watch, we have also noticed the disproportionate focus on the Israel-Palestine issue at the Council, but here again the answer shouldn’t be silence or less scrutiny of a serious human rights situation. Israel needs to be scrutinized for its violations, but this can be addressed under several other items.

HBS: You have mentioned competitive elections and a mechanism to prevent human rights abusers from participating as possible reforms. Are there any other aspects you would want to change for the Council so that it will become more credible?

Laila Matar: Yes, I think there is a lot the Human Rights Council can achieve. Its biggest problem is the cautiousness or unwillingness by some states to address violations without the consent of the country in question. Obviously, if the government itself is a perpetrator of human rights, this country would not want to be held to account. Not addressing these issues would make the whole premise of the HRC fall apart. It’s crucial that the US and the EU, as well as moderate states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, work in coalitions across regions in order to put forward resolutions and to support them fiercely. This has been very successful in the HRC to this point. Additionally, together with other NGOs, we are encouraging the Council to develop the practice of using objective criteria in assessing when to take action on a country specific situation. When the High Commissioner calls for action, or when there is a group of special rapporteurs saying the situation is dire, for example, the HRC should engage. There needs to be certain criteria, perceived as a trigger for action. 32 states already voluntarily pledged to commit themselves to be guided by these objective principles to balance out the selectivity of the Council.

In terms of specific reform proposals, we have dozens. But all of them require political will and leadership, not necessarily institutional reform, which again is precisely why the US shouldn’t withdraw from the HRC.

HBS: What role does Germany and in general Western countries play? Is there a counterforce against human rights abusers?

Laila Matar: Generally, we are seeing a perfect storm in pushing back against the human rights agenda – there is a rise of populism from Trump to Duterte in the Philippines to many European countries. This rise in populist rhetoric  is at the same time anti human rights. Looking at the migration crisis, the EU is not always taking progressive standpoints either. Their reluctance often comes from having co-operations with countries like Eritrea and South Sudan to curb migration flows. Germany has played a positive role in Europe when it comes to migration but individual EU members are often held back in the attempt to reach EU consensus on key issues.  Individual states can go outside the EU and propose initiatives and resolutions. I have seen how powerful it can be when small  countries play leadership roles and build coalitions that tackle challenging issues collectively.  

Latest voluntary contributions to OHCHR in 2017(as at 31 July, in chronological order from most recent to oldest) – Creator: OHCHR. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

HBS: My last question refers to the financial situation of the HRC. Only 3.5 Percent of the UN budget is invested in to the Human Rights Council. In addition, countries can make voluntary contributions. 58 per cent of all voluntary funding was used in 2016 to support work in the field, which receives minimal support from the regular budget.[vi] Is this enough and should we possibly adapt our expectations on what the Human Rights Council can actually do with a limited budget?

Laila Matar: Absolutely! The Human rights pillar within the UN is generally underfunded. The OHCR is not even able to provide the technical cooperation of capacity building to countries that voluntarily request it. It’s a definite weakness. In this regard, concerning the security of human rights, the United States has moved ahead with funding cuts. For the HRC to be a strong body within the United Nations, tasked with protecting and promoting human rights worldwide, it has to increase its credibility and efficiency. But of course, we cannot ask the High Commissioner of Human Rights to do more with less means. The limited funding prevents the HRC from being used in the most effective way.

 HBS: Thank you for your time.

[i] Human Rights Watch: About us, in: (last opened: 08/15/17)

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Piccone, Ted and McMillen, Naomi: Country-specific Scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council: More than meets the eye, in:  (last opened: 08/15/17)

[iv] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: Universal Periodic Review, in: (last opened: 08/15/17)

[v] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: Membership of the Human Rights Council, in (last opened: 08/15/17)

[vi] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner: OHCHR’s Funding and Budget, in (last opened: 08/15/17)

This last article is dated from year 2008. Apparently the UN Human Rights Council has been doing its best to work for our reduction in freedoms for many years.


Human rights at U.N. council a sham

 Monday, December 29, 2008 3:05 pm   Coen   0   10 

UN Watch in the News

Hillel Neuer
Jewish Telegraph Agency

December 29, 2008

GENEVA, Switzerland (JTA) — Sixty years ago, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, bringing enlightened principles to a world darkened by the depths of inhumanity.

A year of commemorative events culminated in a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in December that was attended by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other dignitaries.

But there is little to celebrate.

Today’s council is a body that fails to honor the legacy bequeathed by Eleanor Roosevelt and Rene Cassin, founders of what originally was known as the Commission on Human Rights.

Created in 1946, the commission’s initial achievements in setting human rights standards gave way to posturing as authority shifted from distinguished idealists to cynical governments. Countries with appalling human rights records like China and Sudan became regular commission members in order to shield their own records of abuse. As a result, year after year, the commission gave a free pass to most of the world’s worst violators while instead targeting Israel in half of its resolutions. In 2003, Libya was elected chair. This caught the world’s attention.

In 2005, then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan finally acknowledged that “the commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations.” Annan’s reform plan replaced the commission with a new body that promised to herald, in the words of former U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour, “the dawn of a new era.”

But with more than half the countries on the new Human Rights Council failing to meet basic democratic standards, reform quickly turned to regression. As documented by U.N. Watch’s new 38-page study, Eleanor’s Dream, the 47-nation body is dominated by an alliance of repressive regimes that seek to spoil needed reforms and undermine the few meaningful mechanisms that already exist.

Consider the mandates for experts — individuals charged with investigating violations in specific countries or championing specific freedoms. These mandates often are cited by the European Union to justify their support for the council, which the the United States refused to join on grounds the 2006 reform was a sham. Now, one by one these mandates are being eliminated or overturned.

In June 2007, under pressure from the Non-Aligned Movement, council members eliminated the experts meant to monitor human rights in Belarus and Cuba. Havana trumpeted the political victory. Six months later, the council quietly abolished its investigative team on Darfur. An “excellent decision,” said the Sudanese ambassador.

In March 2008, after the monitor on the Congo reported massive violations, including sexual violence, the council scrapped his position. If this early warning mechanism had survived, would the recent bloodletting have been prevented? We will never know.

In September, the council cut its expert on Liberia. The monitor on Sudan is slated for elimination at the March 2009 session.

The council has further subverted the expert system by appointing pseudo-intellectual rogues to esteemed positions. Its favorites are Jean Ziegler, a Swiss radical who in 1989 co-founded the “Moammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize,” and Richard Falk, an American who supports conspiracy theories arguing that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

Even more alarming is the Orwellian twisting of core mandates. In March, the council’s annual resolution in defense of free speech was rewritten by Islamic states so that it now seeks to police the “abuse” of this freedom — in effect to prohibit cartoons or any other statements deemed offensive to Islamic sensitivities.

The move was only one of many resolutions at the council, which is dominated by Islamic states, that prohibit the “defamation of religion”, especially Islam. That concept is foreign to international human rights law, which protects individuals, not one set of beliefs or another.

Last week, an Algerian-chaired subcommittee of the council, connected to the so-called Durban II racism conference, shocked Western states and human rights activists with a proposal to revise the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by introducing a ban on defamation of religion. Unlike declaratory resolutions, this would alter hard treaty law, directly affecting legal systems worldwide.

Finally, out of a total 25 censures adopted by the supposedly reformed council since 2006, 20 have been against Israel. That’s 80 percent.

Sixty years since Eleanor Roosevelt’s dream, there remains much darkness before the dawn.

The author is executive director of U.N. Watch.

 Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

If you ask me, Mr. Trump is right to pull the US out of the Human Rights Council. This series of articles giving a timeline of the arguments, is offered as a public service and is not for profit. sn