Controversy Over U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council 

As discussed in prior posts, on June 19 U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from its membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council.[1] That decision has prompted controversy.

Ambassador Haley’s Letter to NGOs

The first controversy was created by a June 20 letter from U.S. Ambassador Haley to 18 human rights organizations accusing them of contributing to the U.S. decision to leave the Council. Her reason for this startling assertion was their opposing her failed effort last month for a General Assembly vote on U.S.-proposed changes to the Council and thereby putting themselves “on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue.”[2]

One of the letter’s recipients, Human Rights Watch (HRW), by its director for the UN, Louis Charbonneau, agreed that HRW had opposed the Ambassador’s efforts on this issue, but did so because it feared her proposed changes could have led to amendments from Russia, China and other nations to weaken the Council. “The risk was that it would have opened a Pandora’s box of even worse problems. The idea that human rights groups were trying to undermine genuine attempts to reform the council, or that we were working with countries like Russia, is outrageous and ridiculous.”

Another recipient of the letter, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, through its head Andrew Copson, stated that earlier this June it and 14 other advocacy groups had sent a letter expressing concern over efforts by the U.S. “to reduce the role for civil society organizations through a process of ‘efficiency savings.” This organization, therefore, was ‘appalled to receive “this bizarre rant” from the Ambassador that “betrays a deep and profound ignorance of the work of the IHEU, and humanists around the world, to suggest that we would support the autocratic regimes of China and Russia. Much of our work at the UN is in exposing and opposing those states’ human rights abuses.”

Reactions from Other Governments

The second controversy came from the U.N. Secretary General and from diplomats in Geneva.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the United States to rethink its decision to pull out of the world’s top human rights body and said that he “would much prefer for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council.” He added: “I do believe that the human rights architecture is a key tool at the present moment in order to promote and to protect human rights around the world.”

Meanwhile at the Council in Geneva, “critics and friends alike read the latest Trump move to snub yet another international institution as a sign that U.S. was jettisoning its reputation as a key defender of human rights and self-inflicting a blow to its international image.”[3]

Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador in Geneva, told the Council. “We have lost a member who has been at the forefront of liberty for generations. While we agree with the U.S. on the need for reform, our support for this Human Rights Council remains steadfast.”

Even Russia  and China criticized the U.S. exit. In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry criticized what was described as Washington’s “boorish cynicism in stubbornly refusing to recognize its own human rights problems while trying to tailor the council to its political interests.” In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Council is “an important platform” for countries to discuss human rights and that Beijing has been committed to supporting the group’s work.

About the only country to support the U.S. resignation was Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous “and an “unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

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[1] U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 20, 2018); Washington Post Opposes U.S. Withdrawal from U.N. Human Rights Council, dwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2018).

[2] Harris, Haley Blames Watchdog Groups for U.S. Withdrawal From U.N. Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Washington accuses several NGOs of contributing to its departure from the Human Rights Council, Diario de Cuba (June 21, 2018); McLeiland, Humanists shocked to receive ‘bizarre rant’ from United States, IHEWU (June 21, 2018).

[3]  Assoc. Press, Allies Disappointed by ‘Big Bang’ of US Walkout from UN Body, N.Y. Times (June 20, 2018); Assoc. Press, UN, Russia Call on US to Rethink Human Rights Council Move, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Human Rts. Watch, UN: US Retreat  from Rights Body Self-defeating (June 19, 2018).

Obama’s Negative Reaction to Netanyahu’s Planned Speech to U.S. Congress Validates Cuba’s Negative Reaction to U.S. Meeting with Cuban Dissidents in Cuba

At the invitation of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to give a speech to the U.S. Congress regarding sanctions on Iran. Apparently this plan was suggested by Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., who once worked for a Republican pollster in Florida and who is a confident of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire GOP donor. [1]

This was done without the prior knowledge and approval of the Obama Administration which under the U.S. Constitution is in charge of foreign affairs. In response the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said that the planned speech was “a departure from protocol [as] such invitations are usually made leader to leader” and that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu while he was in the U.S.

An unnamed U.S. official was more outspoken. He or she said this “is not the way people act. It is unprecedented. It is barbaric behaviour. It is so impolite it is disgraceful.” Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, said it showed Netanyahu’s contempt for Obama and threatened U.S. bipartisan understanding and support for Israel. Cohen sarcastically said he would not be surprised to see Netanyahu as a delegate at the Republican Party’s 2016 national convention.

U.S. criticism is also directed at Ambassador Dermer. A senior Obama administration official said the Ambassador had “repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the U.S.”

Netanyahu is in the midst of an election campaign in Israel and undoubtedly saw the speech as bolstering his status as an international statesman. But instead it has prompted severe criticism in his country. His former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, who is running for the country’s parliament, called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech, and Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, denounced the plan as “irresponsible.” An Israeli professor specializing in Israeli-American relations, said, “It’s a huge miscalculation. People are now questioning [Netanyahu’s] judgment.”

The controversy also apparently is bolstering support for Obama’s Iran policies from at least the Democrats in Congress

Finally the forceful criticism of the planned Netanyahu speech shows the validity of a prior post’s description of the Cuban government’s unhappiness with the recent meeting in Havana with Cuban dissidents  by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and with the USAID covert or “discreet” programs on the island purportedly to promote democracy and human rights.

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[1] This post is based upon Zogby, Boehner, Netanyahu outsmarted themselves, Chicago Trib. (Jan. 26, 2015); Cohen, Netanyahu’s Contempt for President Obama, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Bernstein, Is Netanyahu’s address to Congress unconstitutional?, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Rudoren, Israeli Opposition Takes Aim at Netanyahu Over Planned Speech to Congress, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); Peters, G.O.P.’s Invitation to Netanyahu Is Aiding Obama’s Cause on Iran, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Davis, White House’s Dismay Over Netanyahu’s Visit Extends to Ambassador, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Hulse & Peters, Netanyahu Is Talking to Leading Democrats to Little Effect So Far, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2015); Robinson, Boehner’s Invitation to Netanyahu backfires on them both, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015); Kagan, Five reasons Netanyahu should not address Congress, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015).