The Trump administration is warning that the U.S. might leave the U.N. Human Rights Council, arguing that it displays anti-Israel bias and ignores violations by certain countries.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a speech to the council Tuesday that the United States is "looking carefully at this council and our participation in it. We see some areas for significant strengthening."
"It's hard to accept that this council has never considered a resolution on Venezuela, and yet it adopted five biased resolutions in March against a single country, Israel," Haley told the 47 member states gathered in Geneva. "It is essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility."
Later in the day, Haley stressed that the U.S. doesn't "seek to leave the Human Rights Council. We seek to re-establish the council's legitimacy."
She elaborated on changes the Trump administration wants made to the council during a talk at the Geneva Graduate Institute.
She spoke sharply against allowing "the worst human rights abusers" to participate on the council — calling out Venezuela, Cuba, China, Burundi and Saudi Arabia by name — and called for changes in the way members are elected, including scrapping the secret ballot system.
Haley also blasted a standing agenda item to discuss human rights violations by Israel, referring it as a "central flaw" in the council.
She described Israel as having a "strong human rights record," phrasing that drew scattered laughter from the crowd at the institute.
Israel regularly draws criticism from human rights groups for its occupation of territory seized in 1967 and for continuing to build settlements that the U.N. says are counter to international law. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has characterized the council as an "anti-Israeli circus," according to the BBC.
On multiple occasions Tuesday, Haley highlighted human rights violations in Venezuela, saying the government is "conducting a campaign of violence and intimidation against unarmed demonstrators, businesses, civil society and freely elected political opposition."
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the administration of George W. Bush chose not to become a founding member when the council was established in 2006. "The Obama administration had a different approach — joining and sending Ambassador Eileen Donahoe to try to reform it from within."
Donahoe, who was U.S. ambassador to the council from 2010 to 2013, told Michele that "the idea of withdrawing so that agenda reflects what the U.S. wants is backward. It's completely nonsensical."
Donahoe pointed to the establishment of a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, which she says "happened because we were there, not because we said we won't come until it gets put on the agenda."
Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU's human rights program, criticized Haley's stance in a statement to Reuters. "It's hard to take Ambassador Haley seriously on U.S. support for human rights in light of Trump administration actions like the Muslim ban and immigration crackdowns," he said.