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LGBT Groups Condemn U.S. Exit From U.N. Human Rights Council

UN Human Rights Council

The move will make it harder to advance rights for LGBT people and other marginalized populations around the world, activists say.

The United States today withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move Ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. is making because the body is anti-Israel -- but which comes a day after the U.N. high commissioner for human rights denounced American immigration policy.

"For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias," Haley said today, according to CNN. The council, she said, has "human rights abusers" among its members. "The world's most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in its ranks," she said.

Some of the members indeed have poor human rights records, such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, as the Bloomberg news service notes. The Trump administration has hinted for several months that it might leave the 47-member body, which was created in 2006 and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. John Bolton, currently Donald Trump;s national security adviser, has been a critic of the council and opposed its creation when he was U.S. ambassador to the U.N during the George W. Bush administration.

However, there may be other motivations behind the withdrawal. The council "began its latest session on Monday with a broadside against President Donald Trump's immigration policy by the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein," Bloomberg reports. "He called the policy of separating children from parents illegally crossing the southern border of the U.S. 'unconscionable.'"

Membership on the council had given the U.S. a strong voice in shaping global human rights policy, and the withdrawal has been denounced by many activist groups, including those working for LGBT rights, which said the move will hamper efforts to advance LGBT rights globally.

"The Trump-Pence administration's decision to pull the U.S. out of the U.N. Human Rights Council is another failure of leadership when it comes to the human rights of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable populations," said a statement issued by Ty Cobb, director of the Human Rights Campaign's global department. "In recent years, the U.N. Human Rights Council advanced a number of initiatives focused on LGBTQ human rights -- including a 2016 decision establishing an independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. U.S. leadership at that time played a key role in these efforts. With this decision, the Trump-Pence administration is leaving a vacuum at the Human Rights Council that may well be filled by countries that have little or no commitment to universal human rights, and will use the Council to pursue their own undemocratic agendas."

OutRight Action International also released a statement, saying in part, "Without a history of progress on LGBTIQ human rights at the Human Rights Council we would have no progress to speak of within the UN system today. Withdrawing from the Council sends a message to other countries that its acceptable to walk away from the system when it doesn't suit you to be there. Imagine, what would happen if all countries walked away from the UN because of disagreements?"

Stephen Pomper, director of U.S. programs at the International Crisis Group, a private nonprofit organization that seeks to resolve conflicts around the world, told Bloomberg the council is "an imperfect body but it has a decent track record." He added, "It could get better, but it stands a worse chance of doing so if the U.S. takes its ball and goes home and allows it to become a playground for strongmen."

Democratic politicians joined in the condemnation. "The United States should be leading the world on human rights, not retreating into isolation and separating young children from their families. Because of our seat at the table, we've been able to give voice to the voiceless around the world while fighting for the council's fair treatment of our allies like Israel," said a statement released by Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez. "Today, President Trump is sending a signal to the world that we're too weak to lead and too cowardly to fight for our foundational values. Trump's withdrawal is especially disturbing given his persistent praise for despots and dictators with abysmal human rights records, not to mention his administration's cruel mistreatment of immigrant families seeking asylum. His blatant disregard for basic human rights will have dire and tragic consequences for marginalized people across the globe for years to come. We must all condemn Trump for his failure to lead, and we should work together to hold him accountable immediately."

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