Why don't Republicans support human rights?

UN Human Rights Council: "Republicans have always been against the Human Rights Council"

The US administration under President Donald Trump wants to resign from the UN Human Rights Council. The US had been threatening to leave for a long time. You are calling for reform and accusing the Geneva-based body of being anti-Israeli. The US government wants to continue to work with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Florian Irminger is a member of the board of directors of the human rights NGO Human Rights House Foundation in Geneva. He suspects domestic political reasons for the move.

ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Irminger, the United States will withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council, announced the UN Ambassador of the Americans, Nikki Haley. Even when the Council was founded in 2006 under President George W. Bush, the USA did not want to participate. Why?

Florian Irminger: Even then, John Bolton, who is now the Trump administration's security advisor, played a major role as the United States’s UN ambassador. He will now have supported the position of Nikki Haley in the Trump administration, who has been saying for a year that the Human Rights Council does not represent American interests.

ZEIT ONLINE: In 2006 the USA wanted to ensure that it would not be too easy to get into the Human Rights Council, that every new member would need a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly when they were elected. However, the simple majority vote prevailed, so only half of the UN members have to agree. Americans say that makes it easy for injustice states to get in.

Irminger: I don't really think that's a credible argument. The United States is strong enough in the United Nations to prevent certain states from joining the Human Rights Council. There are many countries that have no place in the Council. But the Americans didn't say anything against Saudi Arabia, for example - they were even able to take on a central position in the Council - but the US has problems with Cuba or Venezuela.

ZEIT ONLINE: How can one prevent countries in the Council that disregard human rights?

Irminger: NGOs like Amnesty International or ourselves want a kind of human rights analysis of the applicant country to be carried out in advance for election to the council. And we also want the situation in the countries concerned to be monitored during the three years of membership in the Council. The US does not want that; it wants to control who, in its view, can and cannot be on the Council. But that's not how it should work.

ZEIT ONLINE: But why exactly is the US leaving now?

Irminger: I have the impression that this is primarily a domestic political decision. Last year it became known that Americans wanted reform of the Human Rights Council. But they never did anything to find any consensus. The US Republicans have always been against the Human Rights Council.

ZEIT ONLINE: What was the Obama administration's motivation for being elected to the Human Rights Council in 2009?

Irminger: They wanted to show that they are back in the multilateral game and that they want to enforce what they believe in here. So they had a special report on the freedom of protest and assembly drawn up, the first ever. The Obama administration has always worked hard against the one-sided Israel focus of the Human Rights Council. The number of resolutions against Israel decreased sharply during this time - now there are more.

ZEIT ONLINE: Does the Human Rights Council's credibility suffer from its disproportionate fixation on Israel? After all, states whose government imprisons homosexuals or executes opposition members also sit on the council.

Irminger: In my opinion, the reputation of the Human Rights Council has not suffered as a result of the Israeli fixation, at least in countries that need its support. The Council's credibility suffers if it does not deal with human rights violations in individual states. In the public it is much more visible that, for example, an injustice state like Saudi Arabia suddenly holds important positions in the Council. There are also detailed studies by independent experts on the human rights situation in North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea. Such things get lost in discussions about US membership.

ZEIT ONLINE: What does it mean for the Human Rights Council if the US pulls out?

Irminger: The Human Rights Council will not have so much power within the United Nations system without the US. It can also happen that other states say that they will then no longer bother to work in the Council. The USA can develop a diplomatic force in the Council that hardly any other country in the world can do. You have seen that, for example, in their work for human rights in Belarus or in Crimea.

For the years without the USA, strong states such as France, Great Britain and Germany have to work diplomatically for the Council. And small democratic states like Uruguay, Botswana or Switzerland, of course, don't have the strength like the USA, but they do have an interest in a multilateral idea like the Human Rights Council working.