It may not be popular knowledge that President Trump’s move to relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem resulted in over 50 deaths during protest. But the most recent act by the U.S, slightly more conspicuous in sight and size, involved pulling out of the U.N Human Rights Council due to its supposed bias against Israel, the U.S.’ main ally in the Middle East.
It is hard for the naked eye to see exactly what motivates the Trump administration to maintain such deep loyalties toward the state of Israel when its foreign policy thus far has been characterized more by leaving treaties of peace and progressive alliances than preserving them.
The Trump administration has maintained its isolationist stance by pulling out of multilateral agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Deal and maintaining its outspoken contempt for NATO and the E.U. Its latest move to withdraw from the U.N. HRC speaks again to how far we have come on realizing a vision of isolationism. While the justifications for pulling out are weak, the consequences are vast, and the message is clear.
As with the Paris Climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, there were motivated efforts to persuade the U.S. to stay in the Human Rights Council. Former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, as with many other European nations, spoke with Secretary Haley about the implications of a U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, an organization formed with the apolitical interest of preserving human rights and preventing violence where peace is often most fragile.
Since its inception in 2006, the Council has had many successes, including vast inquiries into mass atrocities in Yemen, Burma, Syria, and the preservation of peace in dozens of countries including Cambodia, Guatemala, Liberia, and Haiti.
The U.S. role in the council has been seen as essential, with the U.S. taking a leading role in many crises and pressing for action on many cases of mass atrocities and genocide, including establishing commissions and inquiries into Syria and North Korea. So what could prompt the U.S. to make such a regressive decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council? The perceived security of its close ally, Israel.
When the UN Human Rights Council was first created in 2006, it was decided that candidates would be voted in by their peers.
“Under this new system, countries with poor human rights records like Saudi Arabia will never have a seat on the council again,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch said.
However, the results played contrary to the intention with states such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and the Philippines having a seat on the council despite their weak human rights records. Even during the process of deciding on voting members of the council, it is hard to ignore the regionalism that influenced the final makeup of the body.
One of the consequences of this makeup was, expectedly, tough checks and balances on Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Occupied Territories.
It is this scrutiny that led Ambassador Nikki Haley to assert, “This disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.” She added, “If the Human Rights Council is going to attack countries that uphold human rights and shield countries that abuse human rights, then America should not provide it with any credibility.”
However, inquiries into the conflict in Gaza is now, more than ever, necessary for the future of peace in the region. With increasing amount of raids, guerrilla attacks, and settlement issues in the region, we need to come together to find a solution to the conflict to ensure that Palestinians and Israelis are not mired in a constant state of fear and conflict. To do so, the United States, as well as other countries should participate in the discussion to navigate an effective humanitarian response to the conflict.
Haley added, “Earlier this year, as it has in previous years, the Human Rights Council passed five resolutions against Israel — more than the number passed against North Korea, Iran and Syria combined.”
However, this is hardly a reason to completely exit. The Human Rights Council is not perfect. It is true that the U.N. needs to change how seats are won on the council so that countries with a history of human rights abuses cannot hold them. But, as with many multilateral councils and organizations, some causes are prioritized over the others and action may be taken against violators to different degrees. But just because the Council should also strengthen its scrutiny towards other countries does not mean its inspection of Israel is unfounded.
In fact, the rest of the world is left to wonder why the U.S., which is sometimes referred to as “The Leader of the Free World,” is leaving the Council while admitting a lot of work needs to be done. We can not uphold our own moral authority if we shelter ourselves from conflicts which do not immediately concern our domestic base or foreign interests.
If the U.S. wants to deliver on our commitment to peace and prosperity across the world, then our alliances with other countries should not blind us from humanitarian crises. And, more importantly, the wish to protect “America first” should not prompt the administration to be complacent in the face of mass atrocities around the world.