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Ambassador Nikki Haley Accuses U.N. Human Rights Council Of Bashing Israel


The Trump administration is considering whether to leave the U.N. Human Rights Council. Ambassador Nikki Haley accuses the council, which is based in Geneva, of whitewashing abuses in many countries, including Venezuela, while spending too much time bashing Israel. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Ambassador Haley told the 47 members of the U.N. body in Geneva she's watching them carefully. She later explained to foreign policy experts her thinking on this.


NIKKI HALEY: America does not seek to leave the Human Rights Council. We seek to re-establish the council's legitimacy.

KELEMEN: Haley is calling for some changes in the way members are elected to keep human rights abusers off the council. Half the current members don't meet basic human rights standards themselves, she says, citing Venezuela, Cuba, China, Burundi and Saudi Arabia. And, she adds, it makes no sense that each time the council meets it has a standing agenda item focused on Israel.


HALEY: It is the central flaw that turns the Human Rights Council from an organization that can be a force for universal good into an organization that is overwhelmed by a political agenda.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration saw the Human Rights Council as a deeply flawed body and decided not to join when it was created in 2006. The Obama administration had a different approach - joining and sending an ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, to try to reform it from within.

EILEEN DONAHOE: The idea of withdrawing so that the agenda reflects what the United States wants is backwards. It's completely nonsensical.

KELEMEN: Speaking via Skype, Donahoe, who's now at Stanford University, says after the U.S. joined the number of resolutions against Israel went down while the council had meetings on Syria and Libya. And it established a special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran.

DONAHOE: That happened because we were there, not because we said we won't come until it gets put on the agenda.

KELEMEN: At a time when the U.S. is pulling out of a global climate agreement and questioning longstanding alliances, Donahoe worries about the signal Trump would send if he also backs away from the U.N.'s leading human rights body.

DONAHOE: And that's why I think it's so important for Ambassador Haley to keep using her voice and reminding people in the administration that protection and promotion of human rights is how we keep ourselves safe.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Haley faced some tough questions in Geneva, though, about how she'll represent President Trump, who sought to stop resettling Syrian refugees and who told the Saudis while in Riyadh recently that he wasn't there to lecture. Haley says she won't hesitate to call out the Saudis or anyone else.


HALEY: I'll continue to say it. And the administration is allowing me to say it. I think it's important for us to have credibility and for us to continue to fight for human rights that we have to be willing to call out those abuses.

KELEMEN: The U.S. ambassador wouldn't make any promises, though, that the Trump administration would remain in the Human Rights Council. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.