UNITED NATIONS — The Trump administration is seeking to highlight its commitment to human rights around the world, and so its envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, is presiding over what it calls the first “thematic debate” on human rights in the Security Council on Tuesday afternoon.
“Council members are encouraged to express their views on the nexus between human rights and international peace and security,” reads a memo circulated to the members this month. Rights abuses, the memo says, can often be the first signs of a full-on conflict erupting.
In fact, 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 alone, 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, 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 Ms. Haley’s memo pointed out.
The Tuesday meeting essentially amounts to the first human rights briefing at the Security Council not tied to a particular conflict.
The United States could well cite the rights abuses it says are carried out by rivals, and it will no doubt come in for some thrashing for what critics call American rights abuses.
Rights groups reacted to the news of the Security Council session with a dose of skepticism. (Ms. Haley has not yet met with officials from major human rights organizations.)
“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.”
The Trump administration, rights groups pointed out, has been sued at home for its visa ban targeting some Muslim-majority countries. The president praised Egypt’s authoritarian leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the advocates point out. On Monday, President Trump congratulated Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for prevailing in a referendum that strengthened his powers. And he hosted the Saudi deputy crown prince in March, saying nothing publicly about what the United Nations has described as international law violations by the Saudi-led military coalition waging war in Yemen.
“Unless the U.S. is prepared to seriously address human rights abuses committed by its allies — like Saudi Arabia and Iraq — a theoretical debate about human rights issues at the Security Council won’t improve the Council’s work,” said Akshaya Kumar, the deputy United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.
Ms. Haley has called the United States the “moral conscience” of the world and 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 2016 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.
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