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Guterres defends UNHRC; says would’ve ‘much preferred’ for US to remain

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United Nations, Jun 20:  UN chief Antonio Guterres today defended the UN Human Rights Council and said he would have “much preferred” for the US to remain in the world body, hours after America withdrew from it, citing alleged bias.

The decision to pull the US out of the UN Human Rights Council was announced by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley who also criticised the council for a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel”.

The US condemned the Geneva-based Human Rights Council’s “shameless hypocrisy” in absolving wrongdoers through silence and falsely condemning those committing no offence, saying America will not take lectures from hypocritical institutions.

Secretary-General Guterres, in a statement, said the Human Rights Council was a part of the UN’s overall “Human Rights architecture”, which “plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide”.

“The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is a 47-member inter-governmental body within the UN system, that not only seeks to promote and protect human rights, but also addresses alleged rights violations and makes recommendations on them, the statement said.

It is a forum for discussing all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention, throughout the year. The members are elected by the UN General Assembly, it said.

The US has long criticised the Human Rights Council for its standing agenda item 7 on rights violations by all parties in the Palestinian Territories.

This item was included when the council’s agenda was drawn up at the conclusion of its initial year, in 2007, at a time when the US had decided not to participate in the council.

The US has actively campaigned for removing agenda item 7, and has opposed resolutions dealing with the Palestinian Territories, even when not presented under this agenda item, such as a recent Special Session resolution creating an inquiry into violence in Gaza.

Haley claimed that human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council.

The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny, and the council continues politicising and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks, she said.

“Therefore, as we said we would do a year ago if we did not see any progress, the United States is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council,” Haley said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that the council enables abuses by absolving wrongdoers through silence and falsely condemning those who have committed no offence.

The US decision was met with criticism from lawmakers and various human rights organisations.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the US Human Rights Council withdrawal is “regrettable”.

“We’ve made no secret of the fact that the UK wants to see reform of the Human Rights Council, but we are committed to working to strengthen the Council from within.

“Britain’s support for the Human Rights Council remains steadfast. It is the best tool the international community has to address impunity in an imperfect world and to advance many of our international goals. That’s why we will continue to support and champion it,” he said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the US government’s decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council will sideline the country from key global initiatives to protect human rights.

“The US has been threatening to walk away from the Human Rights Council ever since President Trump came into office, so this decision comes as no surprise.

“President Trump has decided that ‘America First’ means ignoring the suffering of civilians in Syria and ethnic minorities in Myanmar at the United Nations,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Oxfam America president Abby Maxman called the US decision “shortsighted” that will have profound consequences for America’s international standing and for its legacy on human rights.

“We at Oxfam know that we cannot fight poverty without justice. Surely the Trump administration must know that international peace, security and prosperity are strengthened when human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected and protected,” Maxman said.

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) termed the withdrawal as “deeply regrettable”.

“While the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, it makes a significant contribution to protecting human rights, providing justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators,” ISHR Director Phil Lynch said.

Democratic Senator Edward Markey from Massachusetts, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the US withdrawal is Trump’s “way of building a wall around the entirety of our country, not just at the southern border”.

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