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US ready to quit UN rights council if no reform

Le chef de la diplomatie américaine Rex Tillerson, le 6 mars 2017 à Washington
MANDEL NGAN (AFP/Archives)
Tillerson did not give any indication of the deadline for a decision on the US seat at the council

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told rights groups that the United States will quit the UN Human Rights Council unless it undergoes "considerable reform," according to a letter obtained by AFP on Wednesday.

The United States was elected to the 47-member council, the UN's main body for promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, for a three-year term ending in 2019.

In a letter to eight rights groups, Tillerson said the US administration continues to "evaluate the effectiveness of the UN Human Rights Council" which is currently meeting in Geneva.

"We may not share a common view on this, given the make-up of the membership," he said. Council members include China and Cuba, which have been criticized by the United States for their rights record.

"While it may be the only such organization devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate."

Tillerson said the United States would press on with its "strong, principled objection to the Human Rights Council's biased agenda item against Israel."

President Donald Trump's administration has vowed to defend Israel at the United Nations and rebuked the rights council for adopting resolutions that criticize Washington's Mideast ally.

Bryan R. Smith (AFP/File)

Several countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran hold chairs on the 47-member council and are known to be frequent offenders of human rights, however, Israel has been condemned more times than any other country.

According to Politico, a former State Department official briefed on the discussions noted that while Israel may be a key point of concern, there are other general doubts about the Council regarding its efficacy and its roster of members.

The new US administration will seek to renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and ensure that rapporteurs for North Korea, Iran and Myanmar continue their work, he said in the letter dated March 8.

Tillerson did not give any indication of the deadline for a decision on the US seat at the council.

Rights groups are urging the United States to be a voice for human rights worldwide at the UN body.

The former US administration of Barack Obama played a key role in some of the council's major successes such as ground-breaking inquiries of atrocities in Syria and North Korea.

"The United States is an integral part of the Human Rights Council," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. "It's important that every country participate in its work."

"There’s been a series of requests coming from the secretary of state's office that suggests that he is questioning the value of the US belonging to the Human Rights Council," said the former official.

The letter was sent to the Jacob Blaustein Institute, the Better World Campaign, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Freedom House, Freedom Now, Human Rights First, Human Rights Campaign and the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP/File)

It was first reported by Foreign Policy magazine.

The Human Rights Council was established in 2006, replacing the Human Rights Commission which had faced frequent criticism, also for its acceptance of members with records of human rights abuse.

The United States joined the council under the Obama administration after his predecessor former president George Bush’s administration initially declined a seat.

Under Obama, Israel-US ties hit new lows when the US abstained from vetoing a resolution passed by the UN Security Council to condemn the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, an atypical move from the United States.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed optimism for the new Trump administration, whose members have outwardly stood in favor of Israel on many issues, including the move of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Prior to his inauguration, Trump promised Israel that "things would be different" with the UN after January 20.

Current deputy minister for the center-right Kulanu party (meaning, “All of us”) and former Israeli envoy to the US Michael Oren on Sunday tweeted his support for a withdrawal.

"US decision to quit the insanely anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council would send a moral message to the world," he wrote.

(Staff with AFP)

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