When UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced America’s withdrawal from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) last October, it was clear this was only the beginning. UNESCO had spent decades defying American law and denying Israel ownership of its own cultural heritage. The organization’s “extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment,” Haley said. Quoting Ronald Reagan, who withdrew from UNESCO in 1984, she added that American taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for an institution that is “hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.” That logic demands bold actions from the United States. After all, UNESCO isn’t the only arm of the United Nations that offends American sensibilities and advances the objectives of despots and thugs. Now, it seems the UN ambassador is ready to make her next move.
According to the AP’s sources, Ambassador Haley is prepared to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council. This would mark the first time in that institution’s history that a serving member of that Orwellian council has abandoned that post in protest. That fact alone illustrates this defective institution’s deficit of integrity, ethics, and courage.
The UNHRC is a relatively young organization, and it is no stranger to American hostility. The organization was formed in 2006 as the successor to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which had lost much of its credibility by the time it was dissolved because its structure all but ensured human rights abusers would populate the body. Even internationalists and institutionalists, from Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth to former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, were forced to confess that the organization had become a bulwark dedicated to the defense of the world’s worst actors.
The Commission’s successor organization has not proven much better. Though George W. Bush shunned it, Barack Obama’s administration reengaged with the group in 2009. That has proven to be a mistake, and Haley’s determination to restore the status quo would be entirely justified.
Shortly after Obama sought to rejoin the organization in 2010, the UNHRC selected Libya to be a member state through a secret-ballot process despite Muammar Gaddafi’s documented history of torturing his political opponents, repressing women, and marginalizing specific religious practices. Humiliatingly, Libya was ejected from the organization a year later when Gaddafi began openly murdering his rebellious people in the streets, but not before being the recipient of glowing testimonials about the country’s commitment to human rights from its fellow abuser states.
Indeed, states like Saudi Arabia, China, Algeria, Congo, Cuba, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Venezuela, and a number of other pariahs routinely manage to get elected to this humanitarian watchdog group. The Council is plagued by the same problems that undermined its predecessor. Its membership is drawn from the UN’s five regional groups, which ensures geographic diversity. The General Assembly could, in theory, reject a state’s bid for membership on the UNHRC, but there is no incentive for a majority of nations—many of which have their own internal conflicts—to turn on one of their own absent the gravest of abuses.
This leads us to the UNHRC’s irredeemable flaw: Its institutional biases are so skewed in favor of murderers, dictators, and bigots that it serves primarily to legitimize the dregs of the earth.
The Council has a permanent agenda item—item seven—which obliges it to regularly survey potential abuses committed by Israel in the Palestinian territories. Item seven is such a blatant misuse of the Council’s time that Europe and North America boycott the group when that article is invoked.
In 2008, the commission appointed Richard Falk, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and Hamas apologist, to serve a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur for the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories. In 2011, Falk was reprimanded by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon for endorsing the idea that the U.S. was behind the attacks on its own territory.
Jean Ziegler, co-founder of the Muammar Qaddafi International Prize for Human Rights—which is a real thing that has been awarded to such paragons as Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Louis Farrakhan—currently serves in an elected role on the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Council’s special rapporteur on “unilateral coercive measures,” Idriss Jazairy, is alleged by UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer in testimony before Congress to have executed an “aggressive campaign of non-democracies to muzzle UN rights experts.” One of Jazairy’s most recent reports to the UNHRC is a typical jeremiad attacking the civilized world for maintaining strict sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s government as punishment for Damascus’s use of genocidal tactics and chemical weapons on civilian populations.
Despite Haley’s earned hostility toward the United Nations for its biases against both Israel and the general appearance of sanity, she has proven to be a particularly effective ambassador. Last week, amid a rote condemnation of the Jewish State for engaging in targeted self-defense amid a flare up on its border with Gaza, Haley managed to expose something new: cracks in the UN’s anti-Israel consensus.
In the effort to register America’s disapproval of a resolution condemning Israel that failed to mention Hamas even once, Haley submitted her own amendment condemning Hamas. Surprisingly, a motion submitted by Turkey and Algeria to prevent a vote on Haley’s amendment failed with the support of all of the European Union member states. Even more surprising, Haley’s motion received the support of a slim majority of nations in the General Assembly.
Haley took a substantial risk by abandoning America’s passive role in the UN. Proposing a motion in Israel’s defense and not simply blocking its condemnation as past American ambassadors have done was a real departure. The vote was expected to fail. It is a reflection on changing regional dynamics as well as the ambassador’s competence that she won this victory.
Ambassador Haley’s commitment to not just curbing the UN’s worst impulses but publicizing them and shaming the complicit is the kind of boldness that diplomats’ obsequious commitment to process over effectiveness usually precludes. There is no doubt that Nikki Haley and Donald Trump’s administration are running the most ethical and deft American mission to the United Nations in decades.