Sumera B Reshi
I remember a quote of Drew Barrymore. He said: “I’m a total control freak and love to participate in the design of every single aspect of life.” But I am sure this quote holds true for Donald Trump and he is the latest numero uno control freak born in the US, controlling every aspect of life from north to south & east to west. Soon after he took control of administration, he has been in bold headlines, which he is obsessed with. Trump has become a household name and a symbol of mockery and utter frustration, follows the diplomacy of a showman. His diplomacy is surely unique. His instinct is more national than international and that is why he follows America First dream. A la Christmas father, he always keeps a bag of surprises and this time, he astonished the world with his migrant detention policy (family separation policy) on the US’s southern border. The surprise didn’t end here, he also decided that now is the time to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), calling it a “cesspool of political bias”. Trump is feeling proud on a grand scale. While the timing of the announcement seems extraordinary, however, the US’s unease with the UNHRC is longstanding and not a fortnightly matter.
The announcement of pulling out of the UNHRC came on 19th June 2018 and the reasons for withdrawal as per the Trump administration were that the Council has failed in addressing human rights abuses in places like Venezuela and Iran, to accusations of partiality.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, in a press conference on 19th June, called the Council a “protector of human rights abusers” and a “cesspool of political bias”. She further added that the US won’t provide the Council with any credibility.
The deep-rooted resentment didn’t end here. One more obvious and blatant reasons for the withdrawal from the Council is the US’s grudge towards UNHRC and what Nikki Haley called its “chronic bias” against Israel and said that the Council had a ‘relentless’ & ‘pathological campaign’ against Israel. There are, however, experts who second Haley’s accusation. They believe that there is some truth to the fact that the Council does inexplicably single out Israel. Certainly, the Council is mandated to examine human rights abuses elsewhere in the world but on its longstanding agenda items are abused in ‘Palestine and another Arab territory’- the only item that outlines a particular place or region as per the experts. Yet, for human rights promoters, the US’s withdrawal from the UNHRC is a ‘sad reflection’ of its one-dimensional human rights policy. “Defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else,” commented Human Rights Watch Director, Kenneth Roth.
Since Trump came in power in 2017, it has done so much for the US and has exhibited that he is a total control freak. Soon after he stepped in, he withdrew from the Paris climate accord, left the UN Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminium against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Moreover, political analysts opine that one of the Trump’s most likely and most sinister claims for the withdrawal is to prevent the US from being called out on its own alleged human rights abuses.
Sarah Dougherty, a senior fellow at Physicians for Human Rights said, “There’s certainly a pattern of saying one thing and having it be a pretext for something else in this administration”.
Dougherty explained that “the withdrawal is disturbing because it dismantles certain humanitarian precepts the United States has been known to uphold for more than 70 years—precepts that the current administration can’t credibly maintain.”
In recent past, Trump had choreographed attacks on press freedom, nonetheless, Congress rolled back protections for women and girls both at home and abroad. Further, as per Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, the US has interrogated detainees in Yemen in secret prisons.
According to Rona Gobor, a professor at Cardozo School of Law, withdrawal from the Council is just showboating and has nothing to do with the actual interests of the US. Gobor also called the renunciation of the US seat a ‘childish ‘petulance’. Will Gore in his article wrote, “The withdrawal of America from the Council’s membership surely has much more to do with an ideological distaste for multilateral engagement than a belief that the body is beyond repair.”
None other than Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US appraised the Trumps’ move. Oren tweeted, “This is a welcomed response to a body that condemned Israel more than all other countries combined. The US now signals its refusal to lend legitimacy to UN bias against Israel and Jews.”
In a press conference when the US announced its withdrawal from the UNHRC, Haley stressed on Trumpian emphasis on strength—and a lack of it. “Almost every country agrees with us that the Human Rights Council needs dramatic changes, but no other country has the courage to join our fight. … We gave them opportunity after opportunity and many months of consultations and yet they would not take a stand unless it was behind closed doors,” she said. Toward the end of the conference, she said the United States “will continue to strongly advocate for reform of the Human Rights Council,” and that “should it be reformed, we would be happy to rejoin it.”
The US has time and again termed the Council as the ‘protector of the abusers’ on the premise that certain Council members are abusers. For instance, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela has suppressed the political opposition and free speech, President Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines has been accused of extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers; Ethiopia, where state of emergency in place since February has given the government draconian powers; Cuba where human rights have been discarded for decades, Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt and Iran are the countries where authorities have curbed basic human rights of its citizens. In 2017, the US hinted that until there were changes within the Council, the US would ‘pursue the advancement of human rights outside of the Council’. Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record is at the UNHRC radar, under “Item 7” on the agenda. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the Council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.
On this rationale, the Bush administration used to shun the Council since its inception in 2006, however, the US joined the Council in 2009 during the Obama years as a part of its efforts to pursue multilateral engagements. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Obama administration entered the Council with an ambitious agenda rather than a diffident attitude. Firstly it ramped its representation in Geneva, focused entirely on the HRC.
Secondly, it formulated a strategy to break up the engrained regional bloc dynamics that have long foiled cooperation between developed and developing countries on human rights. Thirdly, it tried to push critical country-specific resolutions, designed to’ put more human rights violators in the hot seat’ and refused the warnings that such steps would backfire. The Obama administration considered the Council a flawed body, however, US’s presence was perceived as a voice to the victims of human rights violations around the world.
Besides, the Trump administration is under fire from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for its policy of separating families attempting to cross the border illegally. Trump’s policy of separating migrants from their children has prompted a national moral reckoning, with comparisons to Nazi Germany and the imprisonment of Japanese – Americans during World War II, but the president and his aides have provided few signs that they will change course despite the pressure, including from allies.
Right now Trump is caught between its need to secure the border and dissuade illegal immigration with the political and moral, consequences of separating people from their children. The policy experts believe that the move could fast become a political nightmare for Republicans ahead of the midterm elections in November.
Additionally, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called the policy “government-sanctioned child abuse.” For the Trump administration, decrying the very body that plans to criticize you is a simple, if blunt, way to try to discredit it.
Laura Bush, the wife of President George W. Bush, described the separation as ‘cruel’ and immoral, despite the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries. Ms Bush expressed her views in an op-ed published in the Washington Post. Democrats have rallied against Trump’s policy. Also, Evangelical leaders are considered among top supporters of Trump, but they have turned the most vocal critics of the policy. One among them is Franklin Graham, who called the separation of migrants from their children, ‘disgraceful’. In an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), he said, “It’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit”. In reaction to this policy, many elected Republicans have publicly broken with the Trump administration. Trump, however, responded on Twitter to blame Democrats for ‘their forced breakup at the Border’ – though the ‘zero-tolerance’ policy in his administration’s. He also taunted Democrats and linked the issue to the outcome of the midterm elections in November.
The ‘zero-tolerance’ policy was announced by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general in May, toward anyone who enters the US illegally. As part of this policy, children and the adults with whom they are traveling are separated when the adult is referred for prosecution for attempting to enter the country illegally. The children are then turned over to the US Department of Health and Human Services, which keeps them in facilities while they await placement with a sponsor as their immigration case makes its way through the system.
Trump’s separation policy was firstly promoted by then-Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly. But Trump had to shelve off the plan or the fear of backlash. According to the Times report, Trump’s senior policy adviser continued to campaign for the implementation of the policy.
As stated by the Trump and co, the goal of this policy was to deter people from crossing the border illegally. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible in defending the separation policy as, “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government,” he said last week. “Because God has ordained them for the purpose of the order.”
It has been said that under the Obama administration, some of those migrants were able to seek asylum at the US border by claiming they were victims of gang violence or domestic abuse. However, with the advent of Trump, the policy is in the coffin. And since the security situation in Central America remains uptight, migrants continue to flee north.
The Trump administration’s policy is meant to deter them, nevertheless, as per experts, it is so far unclear whether that has succeeded. Policy analysts believe it will likely take another month to know the impact of the administration’s policy of separating migrants from their children, but the urge to flee north to the US whether to seek refuge or economic opportunities remains strong—and often has fatal consequences. Kimberly Amadeo wrote in the balance.com on June 14, “President Trump’s immigration policies follow economic nationalism and his “America First” program seeks to protect American workers and industries. It also reverses decades of US immigration policy that called for countries to “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
Furthermore, Trump’s isolationist approach was apparent during the recent G7 summit too, as he lambasted his allies and abandoned a previously agreed joint statement setting out shared goals. The North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which binds the economies of America, Canada and Mexico) may be the next casualty, if Trump decides to up the ante over trade even further.
On this context, experts assert that why we shouldn’t see the UNHRC withdrawal only through the prism of the US’s present migrant detention policy nor only in the context of the Council’s own operational record. Rather, this latest measure is part of a broader, much more worrying shift in the US’s attitudes to global engagement, which paints multilateralism as liberal hogwash and nationalism as the key to future success for the US – and indeed for others. No one knows whether it is an end of Trump’s surprises or there is much more in offing. June is gone, all eyes are on July and Trump. Let us see what new he brings in for the rest of the world.
This Story Earlier Published in Print Edition of ‘ The Legitimate’