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Chinese Peacekeepers in the United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) ride in their armoured personnel carriers (APC) as they wait in the queue to enter their base in Juba, South Sudan August 1, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

As the negotiations over the United Nations peacekeeping budget enter their final hours, the United States and other influential countries should join forces to prevent Russia and China from drastically curtailing the ability of UN missions to monitor human rights in the world’s trouble spots.

The media recently reported that Russia and China have targeted hundreds of human rights posts spread across numerous UN peacekeeping and political missions. The fact that these two countries with abysmal human rights records see rights monitoring as irrelevant is nothing new. For years, they have worked hard in the UN General Assembly’s budget committee to defund as many posts with the words “human rights” in the job description as possible.

But there are two particularly worrying developments as the July 1 deadline for a peacekeeping budget deal approaches: the massive scale of the proposed cuts, and Russia and China’s assumption that the Trump administration’s obsession with UN cutbacks creates an opening to eradicate human rights posts. Fears that human rights at the UN are taking a back seat have only increased since the US announced its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN posts in Russia and China’s crosshairs focus on monitoring, investigating and reporting on the abuse of women and children and other rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, Haiti, and elsewhere.

Adding to the concern about a possible marriage of interests among Russia, China, and the US, the UN set a bad example by proposing massive cuts to the UN-African Union mission in Sudan’s Darfur region that would effectively end the UN’s human rights and protection role across most of the conflict-torn region. Similarly, the UN also proposed a sharp reduction of staffing levels at its peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic that left some European diplomats scratching their heads.

In the past, the US played a leading role in pushing back against Russia and China as they sought to dismantle the UN’s human rights pillar post by post. Countries that care about human rights should urge the US to do so again. But they shouldn’t stay silent waiting for the US to act. Massive cuts of these crucial positions would represent a major victory for Moscow and Beijing, one paid for with the lives and well-being of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

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