USA quits UNHRC

Context:
  • The United States under President Donald Trump administration has announced its withdrawal from United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) terming it hypocritical and self-serving.
  • It has blamed UNHRC for bias against Israel and refusing to eject members who are violators of human rights.
 
Earlier record:
  • US had opted to stay out of UNHRC before also.
  • The George W. Bush administration had opted against seeking membership when the council was created in 2006.
  • US joined the council only in 2009 under President Barack Obama.
 
Why this decision now?
  • US withdrawal from UNHRC citing for its chronic bias against Israel could reinforce perception that Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on world stage.
  • Israel has been only country in the world whose human rights record comes up for discussion at every UNHRC session, under “Item 7” on the agenda. Item 7 on “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of UNHRC’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.
  • Moreover, with US withdraw, the council will be left without one of its traditional defenders of human rights.
  • In recent months, US has participated in attempts to pinpoint human rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.
 
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Other such decisions by Trump administration:
  • US has announced its withdrawal from UN-backed 2015 Paris Climate Agreement
  • US has left UN educational and cultural organization
  • US has pulled out of Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
  • US has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium against its key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving US Embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Criticism of UNHRC:
  • The main criticism against it is that it is made up of states not known for their human rights records; that many are in fact egregious violators of human rights
 
 Why is the HRC still important?
  • The HRC was established in 2006, as part of the UN’s reform process, replacing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
  • Council members are elected by the General Assembly with three-year terms, with a maximum of two consecutive terms.
  • It was to serve as a forum for all states to examine and ‘peer review’ the record on human rights.
  • The ‘Universal Periodic Review’ process, where all states are scrutinised, is currently in its third cycle (2017-2021).
  • No state is exempt from this process, including Security Council members.
  • The HRC is also a forum to monitor international obligations of a state based on international law that states themselves have undertaken.
  • This forum for advocacy and scrutiny, with its pitfalls, is an important component of the UN rights system.
  • Another aspect overseen by the HRC is the appointment of special rapporteurs-independent mandate holders — on issues including
    • Torture
    • Internal displacement
    • Racial discrimination
    • Country specific mandates.
  • In addition, there are distinct international commissions of inquiry and fact-finding missions into particular violations.