Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in 2017. Credit: Reuters

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would leave the United Nations Human Rights Council.

At a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley called the council a "cesspool of political bias," a "poor defender of human rights" and a "hypocritical and self-serving" group that was "not worthy of its name." Haley's main complaint was that the council was unduly focused on scrutinizing Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, while paying scant attention to problematic nations like Venezuela.

Haley's remarks came a day after the UN condemned the Trump administration's forced separations of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

What is the UN Human Rights Council?

The UN Human Rights Council is a group of 47 elected countries that serve for three-year terms. It meets three times a year to review the human rights records of every UN member. During that Universal Periodic Review, countries can update the UN on what they've done to improve human rights. The council also establishes commissions to investigate human rights violations, which it has done in Syria, North Korea, and South Sudan, among other countries.

 

During past Republican administrations, the U.S. has criticized the council for allowing countries with questionable human-rights records to join. When the council was formed in 2006, the George W. Bush administration declined a spot. The U.S. finally joined under President Barack Obama in 2009, and was re-elected to the group in 2012. In 2013, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia were allowed to join the council despite their sketchy human-rights records, which stoked controversy.

On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights Council ambassador, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called the U.S. withdrawal "disappointing, if not really surprising, news."

The ACLU condemned the move. "The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, coupled with its abusive use of power at home, only confirms what we’ve always known — Trump is leading a concerted, aggressive effort to violate basic human rights of those most in need of protection," the organization tweeted.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered praise. "Israel thanks President Trump, Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador Haley for their courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies of the so-called UN Human Rights Council," he tweeted.

Haley said that despite the exit, she wanted "to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments."

But it is the latest in a string of withdrawals from international agreements. President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal, while harshly criticizing the G7 alliance and NAFTA.

The evening following Haley's remarks, it was reported that the Trump administration was setting up "tender age" detention centers for babies and toddlers taken from migrant parents attempting to enter the U.S.

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