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U.S. Expected to Withdraw From UN Human Rights Council

The U.S. is expected to withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council, just as the council begins a three-week forum in Geneva. The withdrawal, reported by Reuters and citing an anonymous U.S. source, is due to disagreements over key issues and Washington’s belief the council is biased against Israel, a U.S. ally.

Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., told the council a year ago that the United States would remove itself unless a “chronic anti-Israel bias” was eliminated from council activities. The main debate is over Agenda Item 7: a permanent agenda item concerning potential rights abuses by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories. Washington wants this item removed, but after months of talks, the point remained on the agenda. Just last month, the 47-member forum voted to investigate killings in Gaza and accused Israel of excessive force. The U.S. and Australia were the only “no” votes, and the Israeli ambassador deplored the council for “spreading lies against Israel.”

As the Human Rights Council meets in Geneva, Britain has joined the U.S. in its dissent on council treatment of Israel.

“Unless things change we shall move next year to vote against all resolutions introduced under Agenda Item 7,” said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday. “That does not mean that we in the UK are blind to the value of this council, including the work it could do on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the right agenda item.”

Agenda Item 7 is scheduled for discussion on July 2, but it’s unknown if the U.S. will be in attendance. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has the option of withdrawing fully from the council (the option allegedly supported by Haley), or the U.S. can remain as an observer, where countries can speak, but not vote on council resolutions.

The U.S. has also argued for stricter membership requirements and easier procedures for removing members with egregious human rights records. Haley has criticized member countries like Venezuela, Cuba, China, Burundi, and Saudi Arabia for failing to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights. Just a month ago, the UN released a report criticizing the U.S. for its own state of poverty.

The Human Rights Council, which was founded in 2006 to oversee and investigate rights abuses, has never seen a serving member drop out voluntarily. The U.S. boycotted the council for three years under George W. Bush, but joined again in 2009 under the Obama administration.

The U.S. removal from the UN Human Rights Council will leave the forum without one of the traditionally strongest voices against human rights abuses. The U.S. has recently been involved with discussions to divulge human rights abuses in South Sudan, Congo, and Cambodia. The Trump administration also acts as a barrier against China, which has become more assertive in its diplomatic moves lately, despite reportedly curbing human rights defenders in its own land.

“It is up to any state to determine whether they would like to be a member of the council,” said Human Rights Council President Vojislav Suc last Wednesday. “The U.S. has been very active in the council in the previous years, including this year, with many initiatives.”

Human Rights Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said there have been “a lot of rumors and a lot of speculation” about the U.S. stepping down, but no concrete statements.

The decision to step down from the council will be one more step in President Trump’s “America First” policy, which has led the U.S. to remove itself from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the U.N. cultural and educational agency, UNESCO.

The withdrawal announcement is expected at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Bloomberg reported.