This week, the US took the unprecedented step of announcing its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council – a day after America’s worsening migrant crisis fell on the radar of the global body. Partisan politics may be to blame.
The Trump administration has a tough message for the global community. To quote John Bolton, US national security adviser: “We don’t need advice from the UN… on how to govern ourselves.”
In yet another sign of the Trump administration’s ongoing alienation from the rest of the world – aside from its newfound relations with the communist state of North Korea – it was announced on Tuesday that Washington is formally withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, basking in the afterglow of American exceptionalism and self-righteousness, said the US “will not take lectures from hypocritical bodies and institutions, as America…selflessly gives its blood and treasure to help the defenseless.”
Exactly what “lectures” he was speaking about will become clearer a bit later.
Pompeo went on to lament the fact that the UNHRC includes among its 47 members “authoritarian governments” with “abhorrent human rights records.” He specifically called out China, Cuba and Venezuela by name, as did UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. But it seems Pompeo was glaringly amiss by failing to mention one of the world’s top violators of human rights, Saudi Arabia, which the US has actually allied with in a brutal military operation in Yemen where thousands of innocent civilians have been killed and injured.
The untouchable House of Saud, however, was not the only valuable US ally to escape US recrimination over human rights. Towards the end of his short statement, Pompeo expressed support for one of Washington’s leading partners, upbraiding the Council’s “bias against Israel,” which he labeled as “unconscionable.” Haley then took the podium to announce that her year-long efforts to “reform” the UN watchdog had failed, as if that were her job duty. She went on to rebuke the UNHRC as a “cesspool of political bias” that has “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel.”
At this point, the question needs asked: ‘why now’? Why the sudden decision to yank the US out of a critical international organization devoted to protecting human rights at this particular time? After all, Israel has been the subject of intense criticism for many years with regards to its handling of the ‘Palestinian crisis.’ This includes condemnation for its protracted blockade of Gaza, where some 1.8 million Palestinians remain confined in what has been dubbed the world’s largest open-air prison. The situation is not much better in the West Bank, which has been effectively demarcated with a security barrier that Israel insists is necessary to prevent acts of terrorism. Palestinians, on the other hand, refer to the barrier as an ‘apartheid wall’.
Criticism over the mishandling of the Middle East conflict reached fever pitch last month as Trump saw through his campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This explosive act effectively destroyed any hope for a ‘two-state solution’ since the Palestinians had been counting on East Jerusalem to serve as the capital of its future state. In the ensuing protests that predictably erupted during the opening ceremony of the new embassy, Israeli forces used live ammo against Palestinians in Gaza, killing dozens and injuring hundreds.
Naturally, the US and Israel would prefer that the UNHRC ‘reform’ its methods and ignore such disturbing episodes, turning its attention instead to other places where human rights are at risk. And that is exactly what happened just the day before the US announced its decision to leave the UNHRC. On Monday, during the opening ceremony of the UNHRC session in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, gave a farewell statement following four long years at the helm of the UN watchdog. In his 45-minute speech, Israel was never mentioned. But the United States – much to its surprise – was.
Zeid delivered a harsh parting shot at US migrant policy under the Trump administration, which he said is willing to “punish children for their parents’ actions” as some 2,000 children have been reportedly separated from their parents in the past six weeks. Calling the practice “cruel,” the diplomat from Jordan quoted an official from the American Association of Pediatrics who called it “government-sanctioned child abuse.”
“The thought that any State would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Zeid concluded.
Now, can it be just coincidence that the very next day, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley were announcing Washington’s withdrawal from the international body? That seems highly unlikely. Although the Trump administration on Wednesday revoked the practice of separating children from their parents caught entering the US illegally, Zeid’s comments seem to have been a criticism too far – as far as the Trump administration is concerned.
At this point, it is vital to keep in mind the highly volatile political situation in the US, which is entering one of its most decisive election cycles in many years. In November, Americans – who have rarely been more divided along political lines – will cast their vote in the congressional midterm elections, the outcome of which can literally mean – despite Robert Mueller’s laughable failure to produce a smoking gun in his ‘Russiagate’ probe – the political survival of Donald Trump. Indeed, if Democrats can grab a majority in Congress there is talk they may invoke impeachment proceedings against one of the most divisive leaders in US history.
Needless to say, the very last thing the Republicans need in an election year is for the UNHRC to demand monitoring of the migrant situation on the US-Mexico border, where videos have surfaced of children being held in massive warehouse-like facilities (one is reportedly an old Wal-Mart store) inside of chain-link fence enclosures. It has been reported that some 2,300 children are thought to have been separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border since the White House announced its “zero tolerance” policy. That is the sort of scandal that could wreak havoc in an election. And the Democrats know it, and are milking the situation for every single tear they can.
However, the anguish being expressed on the part of the Democrats is dripping with hypocrisy and political opportunism when it is considered that, as political analyst Darius Shahtahmasebi argued rhetorically on these pages, the US “has had a longstanding foreign policy of separating thousands of children from their parents on a daily basis.” Both US political parties have been guilty of “separating thousands of children from their families using explosive devices, not detention centers,” he added.
This is a fact that many people on both sides of the gaping US political divide will never have to contemplate for long, especially now that the US is planning to end its membership in the UNHRC. The US is intentionally complicating the situation when it blames the UN for being too harsh with Israel as its reasoning for quitting the watchdog. The simple fact is that the US has been called out for serious rights violations against children. Period. But instead of accepting blame honorably, it calls it quits and goes home as quickly as a child losing at a ball game. Sadly, such behavior on both sides of the US political aisle can be chalked up to political brinkmanship in the ongoing struggle for ultimate power. In the end, it will be the defenseless people in the world that will pay the heaviest price.