President Trump's administration confirmed it is reviewing the United States’ participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council, warning Wednesday that it wants the international body to reform its agenda and end its “obsession with Israel.”
Washington critics have argued that the Geneva-based council unfairly targets Israel over allegations of human rights violations and alleged war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The United States ... remains deeply troubled by the Council’s consistent unfair and unbalanced focus on one democratic country, Israel,” Erin Barlacy, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Switzerland. “No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item. How is that a sensible priority?”
Barclay also questioned why the council was not taking action on other international matters including claims that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government is bombing hospitals and that North Korea and Iran are denying citizens freedom of “religion ... of peaceful assembly and association, and of expression.”
“As we consider future engagements, my government will be considering the Council’s actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the Council’s mission to protect and promote human rights,” she said.
Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren welcomed reports that the U.S. might withdraw and said the move would send a “moral message” to the world.
The United States is currently an elected member of the 47-member council. Part of the pushback from the U.S. takes into account the poor human rights records of some members on the council, including China, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The council was set up in 2006 as a successor to the Human Rights Commission. At the time, the Bush administration refused to join the new body. The Obama administration reversed course and applied for membership, arguing it could do more good and influence decisions from the inside.
The transition of Obama-era representatives to Trump ones has had some rocky moments.
Trump hasn’t pulled punches on his dislike of the United Nations and has publically sought a cozy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, another U.N. critic.
On Monday, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights took a veiled swipe at Trump when he warned about the danger of “political profiteers” amid reports that the U.S. might pull out of the Human Rights Council over its anti-Israel bias.
The high commissioner, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has praised the anti-Trump marches that took place in Washington the day after the president’s inauguration. The Jordanian diplomat also said “proud members” of his staff took part in the protests.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration also clashed with Russia in a vote at the U.N. Security Council. The Kremlin vetoed a measure backed by the U.S. that would punish Syria for using chemical weapons on its own people.
Russia and China, two of the five permanent members on the Council, blocked the resolution.
America's U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the chemical weapon attacks “barbaric” and accused Russia and China of putting “their friends in the Assad regime ahead of our global security.”
The vote in the 15-member council was nine in favor and three against. Also voting against the measure was Bolivia, a non-permanent member. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kazakhstan abstained.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.