2017, USA and the Human Rights Council

IMG_6498In the context of the 35th session of the Human Rights Council, the Graduate Institute, together with the United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, organized last Tuesday, 6 of June, an event in which Ms. Nikki Haley, the U.S Ambassador to the UN, talked about her country’s position regarding human rights. Early that morning, she had already addressed said Council and stressed the importance of supporting the participation of civil society and of adopting a resolution on Venezuela.

Despite its title, the lecture revolved around two main points: the negative aspects of the Human Rights Council’s functioning and the ways in which these aspects should be improved, leaving little time for discussing about the US.

According to Ms. Haley, the Council is following the path of its predecessor, the Human Rights Commision. The latter lost the world’s trust due to its failure to act whenever human rights were being violated, and was therefore replaced. Currently, the Council’s lack of intervention in the greatest violations of our time undermines its credibility, reinforcing the suspicion that it is not a good investment of time and money. To prove her point, the Ambassador mentioned the cases of Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, China and Zimbabwe, among others. She justified her special concern with the Venezuelan situation by explaining that every major conflict first starts with singular human rights’ violations, and then escalates wildly.

Through these examples, Ms. Haley showcased how the Council puts political interests ahead of its duty of being the world’s advocate on human rights. Consequently, she mentioned three minimum changes that she deems necessary. First of all, violators should not be able to hold seats in the Council – and she cited the case of Cuba, who states that its belonging to the Council proves its respect to human rights. – Therefore, she calls for a change in the selection and reelection of members. Secondly, item 7 of the Council’s Agenda should be removed, since having a particular provision for Israel does not place countries on equal footing. Finally, (and this is something the Ambassador stressed through the whole lecture) abuses must always be called out, and violators must always be condemned.

Before the end there was a time for questions, which the public seized for bringing up some of the US’ most controversial issues, such as its actions during the Cold War, its current relationship with Saudi Arabia or its refusal to accept refugees. Struggling to remain firm, and sometimes beating around the bush, Ms. Haley stated that the US is trying to lead and therefore needs to deal with all countries, even if they are violators of human rights, although this does not mean that they should not be publicly condemned. She also affirmed that the US is strong on human rights, and that that is shown though its budget. Moreover, she proclaimed that the Council must change and that, if this is not the case, the US will pursue the protection of human rights outside of it.
Perhaps this was the most remarkable statement since, when facing the question of wether or not the US will withdraw from the Council –and being forced to commit and say yes or no – the Ambassador said she would not commit: “We have to wait and see”.

Eugenia de Lacalle