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Withdrawal from the Human Rights Council a Shortsighted Blunder

By UUSC on June 19, 2018

Today, news broke that the Trump administration is withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. This decision further confirms that leadership on—and support for—human rights issues critical to millions across the globe will not come from the United States under this administration. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is deeply disappointed by the President’s shortsighted move, which will only serve to further isolate the United States and limit our country’s ability to engage in diplomacy in support of human rights.

Since President Trump’s inauguration, we, along with our allies and partners, have voiced concerns that leadership on issues that directly impact the lives of so many—climate change, refugee and migrant protections, and human rights overall—has not been a priority of this White House.

In fact, the United States has itself come under fire for its human rights violations. Earlier this year, Philip Alston, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, published a “damning report” on poverty in the United States, condemning the Trump administration for exacerbating inequality between the rich and poor. Just this week both Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, UN high commissioner for human rights, and the UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for the immediate halt of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since early May.

In remarks late Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley criticized the body for “political bias.” However, the Council scrutinizes all countries’ human rights records, pushing them to do better and hold one another accountable. As Alston noted in a recent interview, “whether you like the UN, whether you like its Human Rights Council or not, there are no other forums that bring together all of the relevant states and where pressure can be applied for more decent standards of rights.” Critiques of the United States or lack of support for its resolutions does not justify abandoning the forum altogether.

Given the U.S. President’s divisive and nationalist agenda, we are unsurprised by the decision to withdraw from an organization whose stated purpose is, “the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.” The irony of the United States claiming a sincere interest in human rights in this moment is not lost—moving forward the country will have significant work to do to re-establish itself as a credible partner in advancing human rights.

UUSC’s work is guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the treaties and instruments that have further expanded and defined the United Nations’ Charter. We will continue to work to advance the rights enumerated within these documents and are not deterred by the abdication of leadership and responsibility the Trump administration has shown. We maintain our faith in institutions like the UN Human Rights Council and will work to see they outlast the whims of those who would see them fail.

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