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UNITED NATIONS: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday evening that Washington had decided to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council, citing “failed efforts to reform the body’s membership and do away with an agenda item focused on human rights” in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

The 47-member Council is the UN’s top human rights body.

Diplomats saw the US withdrawal from the world body as further evidence of the Trump administration’s retreat from a commitment to human rights, multilateralism and a rules-based international order.

This is the first time any country has voluntarily left the Human Rights Council. The only other member to leave was Libya, whose membership was suspended in 2011 after the UN General Assembly deemed the government responsible for human rights violations.

“The withdrawal of the US is deeply regrettable,” said International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) Director Phil Lynch. “The constructive engagement of the United States, with a genuine commitment to human rights and the rule of law, is essential for peace, security and sustainable development.

“While the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, it makes a significant contribution to protecting human rights, providing justice to victims, and promoting accountability for perpetrators,” Mr Lynch said.

“The role the Council has played in securing the freedom of detained human rights defenders, in shining a spotlight on human rights atrocities in Syria and North Korea, and in promoting women’s rights, LGBT rights, and freedom of expression online and offline, are just a few examples.”

In recent years, Washington has played an important leadership role in addressing situations of concern at the Council, such as Sri Lanka and China, and in curbing the influence of authoritarian and repressive states.

“Even under the current administration, US diplomatic efforts have been key to ensuring that the Council maintains its focus on human rights monitoring, reporting and accountability, and resisting the idea popular among some states that any discussion on human rights in a given country somehow violates sovereignty,” said Salma El Hosseiny, a UNHRC advocate at the International Service for Human Rights.

The US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council hardly comes as a surprise. Nonetheless, it needs to be seen as part of a significant and worrying regression on human rights in the US and the world.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2018