US quits UN human rights body, alarming critics

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press together with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not pictured), announcing the U.S.'s withdrawal from the U.N's Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States withdrew from a “hypocritical and self-serving” United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform, a move activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Washington’s withdrawal is the latest US rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It also comes as the US faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the US-Mexico border. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” policy.

“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo. .

Among reforms the US pushed for was to make it easier to kick out member states with egregious rights records. Currently a two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member UN General Assembly is needed to suspend a member state.

The US is half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if it was not overhauled.

The EU said Washington’s decision “risks undermining the role of the US as a champion and supporter of democracy on the world stage.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was regrettable and that the council was the “best tool the international community has to address impunity.”

When the Council was created in 2006, US President George W. Bush’s administration shunned the body.

Under President Barack Obama the US was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.

The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The US and Australia cast the only “no” votes.

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