THE PERFORMANCE of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is quite mixed. It has proved a useful platform to air the plight of the injured and dispossessed, but it has also been vulnerable to manipulation by the oppressors. That said, the United States’ decision to withdraw from the council is a counterproductive step and another sign of President Trump’s retreat from global leadership. The administration is picking up its marbles and leaving rather than staying to fight for human dignity.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is correct that the council includes members who are repeated and serious human rights abusers; that Israel has been pummeled out of all proportion; and that the council has resisted change. But these deficiencies must also be considered against the vital need for a credible U.N. body on human rights with U.S. participation.
Five years ago, the council ordered the creation of a Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in North Korea. That inquiry produced evidence of “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in the closed country. A commission to investigate human rights in South Sudan, also created by the council, identified more than 40 military officials who “may bear individual responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity,” and identified appalling stories of child soldiering, horrific mutilations and sexual violence.
In other cases, the council has been a useful stage for individual accounts of repression, such as the appearance there in March 2013 by Rosa María Payá , seeking an international investigation of the death of her father, Oswaldo Payá, a champion of nonviolent democratic change in Cuba, who was killed in a suspicious car wreck the year before. Of course, it was offensive to hear delegates from Cuba, Russia, China, Pakistan, Nicaragua and Belarus interrupt her. That has long been part of the problem, that repressive regimes cast a shadow over the council’s work — and do so with swagger. But the United States stood fast for Ms. Payá’s right to speak, and she continued, though no investigation resulted.
However flawed the council’s work has been, walking away rewards all the oppressors, who undoubtedly will be thrilled that they no longer face lectures from the United States. What good will come from pulling out? Will it change the behavior of the regimes for the better? Will it make the council more effective? We don’t think so. The decision to walk away is in keeping with Mr. Trump’s lack of interest in human rights elsewhere, glad-handing autocrats and dictators with nary a word about their bone-crushing repressions. A real commitment to human rights would be to stay in the council and use the bully pulpit to confront the bullies.