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Haley: Human Rights Council Is UN's 'Greatest Failure'

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at The Heritage Foundation about the U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, in Washington, July 18, 2018.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley defended the Trump administration's June decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying the body is the U.N.'s "greatest failure."

Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington on Wednesday, Haley, who is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet, told the audience that the council has not been "a place of conscience, but a place of politics."

"The right to speak freely, to associate and worship freely; to determine your own future; to be equal before the law — these are sacred rights," Haley said. "We take these rights seriously, too seriously, to allow them to be cheapened by an institution — especially one that calls itself the 'Human Rights Council.'"

She said Washington disagrees with the council's makeup, which includes some of the world's worst rights offenders, including China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

FILE - The United Nations Human Rights Council attends a presentation of a report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, on March 13, 2018, in Geneva.
FILE - The United Nations Human Rights Council attends a presentation of a report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, on March 13, 2018, in Geneva.

"More often, the Human Rights Council has provided cover, not condemnation, for the world's most inhumane regimes," Haley said.

Even more upsetting to the administration is what it sees as the council's singling out of Israel for criticism of its treatment of Palestinians through an annual debate known as "Agenda Item 7."

"No other country — not Iran, not Syria, not North Korea — has an agenda item devoted only to it," Haley said. "Agenda Item 7 is not directed at anything Israel does, it is directed at the very existence of Israel."

She said it is a "blazing red siren" signaling the council's "political corruption and moral bankruptcy."

The 47-member Human Rights Council is generally seen as flawed but important, playing a serious role in the promotion and protection of global human rights. It has dispatched fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry and produced reports on grave abuses, including war crimes from Syria to North Korea to Myanmar.

The HRC was created in 2006 to replace its dysfunctional predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded. The administration of George W. Bush opted against seeking membership and the U.S. did not join until 2009 under President Barack Obama, saying it sought to improve the council by working from within.

After failing to meet Washington's demands for reform, the administration announced its withdrawal on June 19. Some Western diplomats said its departure would further weaken the body, strengthening the position of countries that take a different view of human rights than their states.

Haley, who took no questions after her speech, said that fixing the HRC's flaws, "was, is and will remain" one of the United States' biggest priorities at the U.N.