US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced last week the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body. The US was midway through a three-year term.
The US cited for its decision the council’s perceived bias toward Israel and a lack of institutional credibility. But the departure symbolizes a retreat from leadership on human rights abroad as human rights conditions at home have come under sharp criticism.
The decision came just days after the UN high commissioner for human rights denounced the US practice of forcibly separating children from their migrant and asylum seeker parents at the US border.
The US has also sought to increase the number of immigrants detained by requesting additional funding to increase enforcement and immigration detention facility capacity. In a recent joint report, Human Rights Watch demonstrated the fatal consequences of systemic inadequate and substandard medical care in immigration detention. The administration’s budget proposals would put even more people at risk in immigration detention, including small children and families.
On criminal justice, the administration has taken actions bound to reduce human rights protections by reversing federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy for housing transgender inmates in places where they would be safe, moving to revive the harmful war on drugs, and setting back police accountability mechanisms.
The Trump administration has also sought to scale-back voting rights and disparage peaceful protest, contending that football players who kneel during the national anthem “shouldn’t be in the country.”
Instead of addressing rights violations linked to national security, Trump signed an executive order to keep the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open and nominated Gina Haspel, who was closely involved in US government-sponsored torture and the destruction of evidence documenting it, to direct the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Trump administration needs to take responsibility for its own rights-abusing policies, consider how to turn around its approach, and take steps to win back credibility for human rights leadership around the world.