In a bid to show that the Trump administration cares about human rights around the world, its envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, on Tuesday presided over what the administration called the first “thematic debate” on human rights in the Security Council.
“In case after case, human rights violations and abuses are not merely the incidental byproduct of conflict,” Ms. Haley said at the session. “They are the trigger for conflict.” She referred to countries that the United States has consistently criticized for their rights abuses, including Cuba, North Korea and Syria.
Rights groups reacted with criticism. The Trump administration, they pointed out, has been sued at home for its visa ban targeting some predominantly Muslim countries. The president has praised Egypt’s authoritarian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the advocates noted. On Monday, President Trump congratulated Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for prevailing in a referendum that strengthened his powers.
“Can’t wait for discussion about detention of journalists, writers, & others in Turkey,” David Kaye, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and a special United Nations envoy on freedom of expression, wrote on Twitter.
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The United Nations already addresses human rights, one of the pillars of the organization’s system.
And for at least a decade, the Security Council has received briefings from human rights officials within the United Nations and, occasionally, from outside organizations that work on human rights. Over the last year, those briefings have included the risk of genocide in South Sudan, war crimes in Syria, politically motivated killings in Burundi and the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.
In 2013, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general at the time, put in place a policy that he called Human Rights Up Front, instructing all United Nations officials in the field to report on human rights violations in the countries where they work.
And many of the mandates of United Nations peacekeeping missions authorize human rights investigations, as a memo by Ms. Haley’s aides pointed out in proposing the meeting to fellow council members.
The Tuesday meeting essentially amounted to the first human rights briefing at the Security Council not tied to a particular conflict.
While Ms. Haley cited abuses by North Korea, Syria and Cuba, other countries, likewise, used Tuesday’s session to shame their rivals. Ukraine singled out Russia; Russia in turn complained about a “general hatred of Russia.” China spoke against terrorism.
Ms. Haley has called the United States the “moral conscience” of the world and has said she was committed to addressing rights abuses. She has been skeptical of the United Nations Human Rights Council, though, describing many of its constituents as countries with poor human rights records and calling it “so corrupt.”
Countries are elected to serve on the Human Rights Council. The United States was elected in October to a three-year term starting this year. Russia lost its bid for a seat.
Whether Ms. Haley will recommend that the United States pull out of the Human Rights Council is unclear. Former American diplomats have said the United States has used its membership to push for commissions of inquiry, including on rights abuses in Iran, North Korea and Syria.
“If the U.S. administration wants to show it has a genuine commitment to human rights, then it needs to take a serious look at its recent policies,” Sherine Tadros, the head of the New York office for Amnesty International, said in an email. “You can’t have directives coming from Washington that are distinctly anti-human rights and then say you’re championing human rights at the U.N.”
(c) 2017 The New York Times