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U.S. Pulls Out Of U.N. Human Rights Council


All right, after a year of trying and failing to change it, the Trump administration is pulling out of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council. Advocacy groups say they're worried about the U.S. ceding its leadership on human rights. But the Trump administration says it no longer wanted to lend legitimacy to a council it calls hypocritical. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a long list of concerns about the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.


MIKE POMPEO: Its membership includes authoritarian governments with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights records, such as China, Cuba and Venezuela. And the council's continued and well-documented bias against Israel is unconscionable.

KELEMEN: U.N. expert Richard Gowan, though, says the U.S. departure could tip the balance further toward autocrats.

RICHARD GOWAN: China in particular is really trying to rewrite the U.N.'s approach to human rights and really limit what the U.N. can do in defending liberal values.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, Gowan, who's with Columbia University, says European countries that remain on the Human Rights Council will struggle to set the agenda without U.S. help. And he worries that this is just the latest move by the Trump administration to back away from multilateralism.

GOWAN: And that means that a lot of other countries are beginning to look at the multilateral system as a whole and wonder whether it's on deathwatch.

KELEMEN: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley says she tried for a year to reform the Human Rights Council but says European countries didn't offer much help.


NIKKI HALEY: Many of these countries argue that the United States should stay on the Human Rights Council because American participation is the last shred of credibility that the council has. But that is precisely why we must leave.

KELEMEN: The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein says the move was disappointing if not really surprising. This week, he criticized the Trump administration's policy of separating children from families at the southern border. U.S. officials say the decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council was in the works before that criticism.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.