0714 GMT February 16, 2019
China, Britain and the European Union lamented on Wednesday Washington’s decision to withdraw from the council as Western countries began looking for a substitute for the coveted seat.
The US announced on Tuesday it was leaving the United Nations' Human Rights Council, with Ambassador Nikki Haley calling it "an organization that is not worthy of its name."
It was the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution, a move activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult, Reuters reported.
“It is bad news, it is bad news for this council, it is bad news I think for the United Nations. It is bad news, I think for the United States, it is bad news for everybody who cares about human rights,” Slovenian President Borut Pahor told the 47-member forum in Geneva where the US seat was empty.
The European Union, Australia and Britain echoed his comments.
The United States withdrew from a "hypocritical and self-serving" UN Human Rights Council over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform.
Haley said the US had given the human rights body "opportunity after opportunity" to make changes. She lambasted the council for "its chronic bias against Israel" and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of Congo, AP reported.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a "noble vision."
“But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo said. “The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”
The announcement came just a day after the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents. Haley had been threatening the pull-out since last year unless the council made changes advocated by the US.
Blind eye turned to rights abuses
Rights groups criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.
“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back,” Zeid said after Haley announced the US withdrawal.
Reuters reported last week that talks on reforming the council had failed to meet Washington’s demands, suggesting the Trump administration would quit.
In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized what she described as Washington's "boorish cynicism in stubbornly refusing to recognize its own human rights problems while trying to tailor the council to its political interests."
She told a briefing that Washington "demonstrated disregard not only to the council but to the entire UN and its institutions."
Russia's UN mission said in a statement that the US exit from the council reflected Washington's unilateralist approach to global affairs. The Russian mission described the body as a “key international platform for cooperation in protecting human rights.”
China also expressed regret on Wednesday over the US decision to withdraw from the UN body, with state media saying the image of the US as a defender of rights was “on the verge of collapse.”
“China expresses regret at the US decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing.
“China will continue, working with all sides, to make its contribution to the healthy development of human rights around the world via constructive dialogue and cooperation,” he added.
The official publication of China's top anti-graft watchdog said in a commentary on Wednesday the US decision “has put the American peoples’ boastful image of being a defender of human rights on the verge of collapse.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office called the US decision "courageous," calling it "an unequivocal statement that enough is enough."
The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president's "America First" policy. Although numerous officials have said repeatedly that “America First does not mean America Alone,” the administration has retreated from multiple multilateral accords and consensuses since it took office.