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Michael Jansen: No respect for human rights
June 25, 2018
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today
The US withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council has been expected for years.

The pretext for the pullout was the Council’s anti-Israel bias which Washington brands “corrupt.” The US argues that other Council members are far more serious violators of human rights than Israel and should either not be members of the Council or be targeted with criticism.

The UN Human Rights Council has focused on and been sharply critical of Israel expressly because it claims to be the “only democracy” in this region, a country with a Western system of governance which respects the rule of law, and is a “light unto the world.” In fact, Israel imposes apartheid on Palestinians living under its rule (including Palestinian citizens of Israel), expropriates their land, violates their human rights, and attacks neighbours. While there may be countries, including members of the Council, which brutally repress all opposition and blatantly violate the rights of citizens, none of these countries claim to be exemplars of good behaviour as does Israel.

Trump has just cosied up to Kim Jong-un, the leader of the most repressive regime on the planet, and continues to express admiration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has thrown more than 100,000 people in jail and dismissed an equal number of their jobs since a failed coup in July 2016.

The timing of the US departure is unfortunate as it coincided with an unholy row over Donald Trump’s decision to separate 2,300 infants, toddlers and children from parents attempting to enter the US illegally across the Mexican border. This policy - reversed due to the nasty image it projected of Trump personally rather than the harm done to families - has been condemned domestically and internationally. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zein Ra’ad al-Hussein slashed the practice and said it amounted to “government-sanctioned child abuse. The thought that any state would seek to deter parents (from entering its territory) by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.”

The US withdrawal also coincided with a report by the Council’s special rapporteur on poverty Philip Alston who accused the Trump administration of deepening the deprivation of 40 million impoverished US citizens by destroying safety nets on which they depend for food, Shelter and health care. Alston charged the Trump with adopting pro-rich and anti-poor policies by decreasing taxes on the rich and withdrawing funding from programmes which sustain the poor such as welfare for jobless and the food stamp programme which provides food for the poor. The administration seeks to triple the basic rent for federally subsidised housing and abrogate regulations that aid the poor and middle class.

Alston argued of the 47 members of the Council, the US has been the only one to leave. He stated, “There is a fear that this is part of a broader attack on human rights and multilateralism.”

On this point he is absolutely correct. Last October the Trump administration withdrew from UNESCO, the 72-year old UN agency founded to protect global cultural heritage. Washington had been a founding member. The US had halted funding in 2011, 22 per cent of UNESCO’s budget, under President Barack Obama, following the organisation’s acceptance of Palestine as a full member. The US withdrawal will become effective in October this year. When it leaves, Washington will owe unpaid contributions from 2011.

The US pullout from UNESCO demonstrates its contempt for multilateralism and the rule of law. Washington has repeatedly revealed this attitude when dealing with Iraqi and Syrian cultural heritage during US-prosecuted conflicts in this region. Having razed to the ground the Old City of Mosul in Iraq and the entire city of Raqqa in Syria, the US is unwilling to pay for reconstruction and fund the return of residents. The US is also the world’s largest importer of looted cultural property, fuelling the illicit trade.

At the beginning of this year, Trump withheld $305 million of its regular contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), delivering only $60 million and threatening the very existence of the essential agency.

Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate change accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if it is not amended to suit his purpose - allegedly, to protect US producers from foreign competition. He is undermining the World Trade Organisation and multilateral trade arrangements with a host of countries by slapping tariffs on European Union, Canadian, Mexican, Indian and other exports, eliciting equivalent measures from these countries. He has threatened to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) if other members do not increase defence spending.

Although it has a long history of intervening politically and militarily in the affairs of other countries, the US has always been reluctant to join multinational organisations. A century ago the US refused to become a member of the League of Nations following World War I although the groundwork for that body had been prepared by US President Wood- row Wilson. While drawn belatedly into that war, US citizens did not want to become fully involved in European affairs. An influential group of US senators feared membership would infringe on US sovereignty and independence. This faction was led by prominent Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.

While US President Franklin Roosevelt could not persuade Congress to go to war against Nazi Germany until its ally Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, he had an easier time securing legislative approval for the creation of the United Nations, an organisation founded with the aim of promoting peace and security. When formally established in 1945, the UN became the first international organisation to receive support from the US. However, this has fluctuated, with the US withholding payments of its dues and condemning votes in the Security Council and General Assembly not to its liking.

Having emerged as a superpower on the world stage following World War II and the sole superpower following the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, the US, like Trump, insists that it must get its way on all issues: “Either my way or the highway.”

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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