The US formally announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday afternoon.
"As we said we would do a year ago if we did not see any progress, the US is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council," US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, calling it a "cesspool of political bias."
"We have no doubt there was once a noble vision for this council, but we need to be honest, the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement alongside Haley at the State Department.
Pompeo said that the council has become "a source of shameless hypocrisy" that "enables wrongdoers through silence" before declaring that
During last year’s session — her first as UN ambassador — Haley said that the US would consider withdrawing unless the Human Rights Council addressed what the Trump administration called “chronic anti-Israel bias." Talks to address the Trump administration’s demands collapsed on Friday, according to Reuters. Pompeo praised Haley as a "fierce defender of human rights."
The council, which was created in 2006, has a standing agenda item on suspected violations by Israel. It is the only permanent agenda item devoted to an individual country.
In her statement at the 2017 session, Haley also cited concerns about the membership of Venezuela, saying that “no country who is a human rights violator should be allowed a seat at the table.” Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Cuba are among the other countries currently holding seats on the Human Rights Council.
A coalition of rights organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council, PEN America, and the Better World Campaign, has submitted a letter to Pompeo saying that the administration’s call for reforms are “grounded in legitimate concerns,” but called the decision to withdraw “counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests.”
“I supported the changes,” said Peter Yeo of the Better World Campaign, “but the response to not getting reform shouldn’t be to pull out. It should be to redouble American leadership.”
The council replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was disbanded in 2006 by then–UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who said that “the commission's declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system as a whole.”
The George W. Bush administration declined to join the new human rights body when it was created, citing concerns about the strength of the organization. “We will seek to support [the council] when we can, to strengthen it, and we certainly won't do anything to harm it," then–undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns said in statement to the New York Times at the time.
The US was first elected to the council in 2009 under the Obama administration. In the years since then, the body — alongside its annual review of the human rights records of all UN members — has launched inquiries into human rights abuses in North Korea and Syria and has affirmed LGBT rights as human rights.
The US was most recently reelected to the council in 2016, after a one-year hiatus, for a term that started Jan. 1, 2017. The US had a year and a half left in its current three-year term prior to Haley’s announcement. No country had ever quit the council previously.