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US Ambassador Nikki Haley’s Disappointing UN Rights Legacy

Led Misguided US Departure from Human Rights Council

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks in the U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, will not be remembered as a staunch defender of human rights when she resigns at the end of the year. She vigorously defended egregious Israeli abuses like the unlawful use of lethal force that killed over 150 protesters in Gaza this year. But her main legacy will be leading the US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, dismissing it as an ineffective institution that criticized Israel too much.

Many had hoped she would help the administration of President Donald Trump promote human rights abroad. After all, she had made a name for herself in 2015, when, as governor of South Carolina, she ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from the state capitol grounds after a mass shooting. Although she joined other Republican governors in opposing resettling Syrian refugees in her state, in 2016 she criticized presidential candidate Trump for his anti-immigration rhetoric. Haley wrote recently that she occasionally disagreed with Trump, though she offered no details.

As UN ambassador, Haley made important progress on several issues. She helped push the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan. She urged the council to look hard at the crisis in Nicaragua. And she repeatedly asked the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to curtail abuses against opponents and investigate the murder of two UN experts there.

When it comes to the Human Rights Council, Haley announced the US departure from the body in June, just days after the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Haley called the council a “cesspool of bias,” and wrongly blamed Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other human rights organizations for the US withdrawal when her ill-conceived attempts to “reform” the council received virtually no support from UN member states.

The Human Rights Council, like other UN bodies, has its shortcomings, including having serial rights violators like Saudi Arabia and China as members. Still, the council has had a positive impact, with or without US involvement. In last month’s session, it created a means to gather evidence and identify those responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in Myanmar. It also adopted the first-ever UN resolution on Venezuela’s crisis, and renewed an investigation into rights abuses in Yemen.

Haley’s dismissal of what she calls the “so-called Human Rights Council” rings increasingly hollow.

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