The move, which the Trump administration has threatened for months, came down one day after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border as "unconscionable."
Speaking from the State Department, where she was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley defended the move to withdraw from the council, saying US calls for reform were not heeded. "Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council," said Haley, listing US grievances with the body. "The world's most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in its ranks."
"For too long," Haley said, "the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias."
Based in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is a body of 47 member states within the United Nations tasked with upholding human rights. Membership on the council gives countries like the United States a voice in important debates over human rights atrocities, but the council's critics, including Haley, say abusers use their membership to guarantee their own impunity.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a statement: "Today the U.S. took a stand against some of the world's worst human rights violators by withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. By elevating and protecting human rights violators and engaging in smear campaigns against democratic nations, the UNHRC makes a mockery of itself, its members, and the mission it was founded on. For years, the UNHRC has engaged in ever more virulent anti-American, and anti-Israel invective and the days of U.S. participation are over."
The UN expressed disappointment. "The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council," Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said in response to the US announcement. "The UN's Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide."
The move was immediately condemned by a dozen charitable groups, who wrote to Pompeo to say they were "deeply disappointed with the Administration's decision to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the premier intergovernmental human rights body at the global level."
'A so-called Human Rights Council'
"This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world," they added.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said: "Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the US claims to uphold. While the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice."
US withdrawal from the council follows efforts by Haley and the US delegation to implement reforms, including more stringent membership criteria and the ability to remove members with egregious human rights records.
"When a so-called Human Rights Council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name," said Haley. "Such a council, in fact, damages the cause of human rights."
Haley also blasted the council for a "disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel," citing a series of resolutions highlighting alleged abuses by the Israeli government of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Haley said the United States will continue to promote human rights outside of the council and would consider rejoining it in the future if reforms are made. "We have used America's voice and vote to defend human rights at the UN every day," she said, "and we will continue to do so."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday accusing it of a “chronic bias against Israel,” a move that activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.
Standing with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting U.S. efforts to reform the council. She also criticized countries which shared U.S. values and encouraged Washington to remain but “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”
“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo. Haley also said the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.”
Washington’s withdrawal is the latest U.S. rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” policy.
Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.
Haley said the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council “is not a retreat from our human rights commitments.” Twelve rights and aids groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote Pompeo to warn the withdrawal would “make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world.”
“The U.S.’s absence will only compound the council’s weaknesses,” they wrote. Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said Trump’s “misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests and betrays our values as a nation.”
Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded the U.S. withdrawal and urged other countries to do the same. (Burma will soon be withdrawing from UNHRC.) Reuters reported last week that talks on reforming the council had failed to meet Washington’s demands, suggesting the Trump administration would quit.
The council meets three times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide. It has mandated independent investigators to look at situations including Syria, North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan. Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.
Speaking before the U.S. announcement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of the U.N. and the active participation of all states.”
When the Council was created in 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration shunned the body. Under President Barack Obama the United States was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms on the council by the U.N. General Assembly. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.
In March 2011, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya’s membership in the council because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But U.N. officials said no member has withdrawn.
Haley said a year ago Washington was reviewing its membership and called for reform and elimination of a “chronic anti-Israel bias.” The body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that Washington wanted removed.
The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The United States and Australia cast the only “no” votes. “The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel,” said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth.