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The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva; Source:

By Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews, June 18, 2018 

( – A year after Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley gave the U.N. Human Rights Council notice that the U.S. may withdraw, the Geneva-based body opens a new, three-week-long session on Monday, with neither of the administration’s two primary declared concerns addressed.

The HRC has continued to focus disproportionately on Israel, despite Haley’s urging last June for it to take steps to “address its chronic anti-Israel bias.” Israel remains the only country situation in the world to have a stand-alone, permanent item on the HRC agenda.

And on the question of countries with poor human rights records serving on the HRC, the situation has in fact worsened over the past year.

Rather than improve the overall quality of the membership, elections last fall increased the number of autocratic regimes, from 12 (25.5 percent of the total of 47 members) in 2017 to 14 (29.7 percent) this year. That is the largest contingent of repressive governments to sit on the council in any year since it was established in 2006.

Those 14 countries, all ranked as “not free” by Freedom House, are Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

The council holds three “regular” sessions a year, plus “special” sessions from time to time.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 6, 2017, warned that the U.S. was reviewing its membership. (UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

The most recent regular session, last March, ended with the council adopting five resolutions on a single day condemning Israel, along with one each targeting North Korea, Iran and Syria – prompting Haley to repeat her earlier warning.

“When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran, and Syria, it is the council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name,” she said on the day of the five anti-Israel votes.

“The United States continues to evaluate our membership in the Human Rights Council,” Haley said. “Our patience is not unlimited.”

Two months later, however, Israel was again in the council’s crosshairs, this time the subject of a “special session” held after the deadly mid-May violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

That meeting ended with adoption of a resolution accusing Israel of “disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” and setting up a new commission of inquiry to investigate. The U.S. and Australia alone voted against the measure, which passed 29-2, with 12 abstentions.

“Special sessions” are held at the behest of at least one-third (16) of the HRC’s members. The 17 members which called for the session included nine of the 14 “not free” contingent (Angola, Burundi, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.)

Since the council’s creation 12 years ago, it has held just 28 special sessions.

Of those, Israel has been targeted more than any other country – eight times (28.5 percent of the total) – compared to five special sessions (17.8 percent) dealing with the Syrian civil war, and two (7.1 percent) relating to Burma.

The only other specific human rights situations examined in special sessions (one each) have been those in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Iraq, Central African Republic, Burundi and South Sudan.

Meanwhile human rights abuses in North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Russia, China and elsewhere have received no special session attention.

In fact, a number of countries with poor human rights records have not been criticized in a single HRC resolution. They include China, Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Angola and Qatar.

‘When oppressors hold seats’

At the last session, acting Assistant Secretary of State Mary Phee underscored the main U.S. concerns.

“The council cannot act effectively to help the oppressed when oppressors hold seats here,” she said, calling out Venezuela and Burundi by name.

While all countries “have work to do,” Phee said, “there is a difference between a state making an effort, and one refusing to cooperate with HRC mechanisms or regularly depriving individuals within its territory of their rights.”

Pointing to the permanent agenda item targeting Israel, Phee said it was “unacceptable that the HRC treats Israel differently from every other U.N. member.”

“When it comes to human rights, no country should be free from scrutiny, including Israel,” she said. “But the institutional integrity of the council demands that the efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel through such blatant bias must end.”

If the Trump administration does leave the HRC, either now, or at the end of the current term in Dec. 2019, it could shun the council completely, or retain observer status.

With observer status, the U.S. would not be able to vote, but would be able to attend regular and special HRC sessions, and continue to participate in the council’s “universal periodic review” (UPR) mechanism, under which every country’s rights record is assessed by the HRC every four years.

The weaknesses plaguing the HRC, particularly those arising from the quality of membership, originated during the U.N. negotiations around its creation

At the time the Bush administration sought to strengthen the initiative by raising the bar for prospective members. Then-Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton pushed for candidates to require the support of two-thirds of U.N. member states, and for membership to be closed to any country under U.N. sanctions for human rights abuses or terrorism.

Neither proposal succeeded, however.

With no enforceable criteria for membership, it is open to any U.N. member-state able to garner a simple majority. With voting by secret ballot, countries are not held accountable for their voting choices.

In most annual HRC elections, moreover, regional groups have put forward “closed slates” of candidates for the number of vacant seats earmarked for that group, meaning even a semblance of competition is removed.

The Bush administration anticipated the problems ahead, voted against the resolution that created the HRC, and declined to join or cooperate with it.

The Obama administration reversed the decision in 2009, arguing that its engagement would and did improve what it conceded remained a flawed institution.

The U.S. served terms in 2010-2012 and 2013-2015. After a mandatory one-year absence in 2016, it ran again late that year for a new term in 2017-2019.