Noah noted that President Trump abandoned the “freedom agenda,” most recently by calling to congratulate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on winning a rigged referendum that will shred the last remnants of Turkish democracy. Earlier, Trump heaped nothing but praise on Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt during a White House visit without any mention of Sisi’s record of repressing Islamist and liberal critics alike. As I note in this article, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been equally uninterested in raising human-rights violation as an issue.
But while it’s no substitute for presidential action, it is worth noting that at least one member of his administration remains cognizant of the importance of promoting human rights. That would be Nikki Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations.
In fact, on Tuesday, one day after Trump’s infamous phone call to Erdogan, Haley presided over a meeting of the UN Security Council that she, as the council president for the month, convened to discuss the very issue of human rights. “In case after case, human rights violations and abuses are not merely the incidental byproduct of conflict,” she asserted. “They are the trigger for conflict.” Earlier, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Haley said, “For me, human rights are at the heart of the mission of the United Nations.”
Haley has been outspoken in shaming countries for their human rights violations. For example, she denounced the murders of gays that have occurred in Chechnya in strong language marred only by a lack of reference to Russia (Chechnya is part of Russia). “We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association,” she said. “If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored–Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”
Haley has also spoken out against abuses committed by Bashar Assad and has not hesitated to point out Russian complicity: “Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons as long as Russia continues to protect his regime from consequences,” she said on April 5. “Time and time again, Russia uses the same false narrative to deflect attention from their allies in Damascus. Time and time again, without any factual basis, Russia attempts to place blame on others. There is an obvious truth here that must be spoken. The truth is that Assad, Russia, and Iran have no interest in peace.”
Haley has, in general, been an unsparing critic of Vladimir Putin, saying, for example, on March 16: “We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia.” That’s quite a contrast to the more conciliatory message that Trump delivered on April 13: “Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time, everyone will come to their senses [and] there will be lasting peace!”
In the case of Syria, Haley actually seemed to be echoing concerns shared by the president, who launched cruise missiles in retaliation for Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But that is the exception rather than the norm. Mostly when Haley raises the importance of human rights, she appears to be speaking for no one but herself. That’s a shame, but it should not detract from her courage and wisdom in speaking out. Having come to diplomacy from service as governor of South Carolina, she is rapidly establishing herself as a rising star of the Trump administration and perhaps even a contender for the presidency.