Trump administration quits UN Human Rights Council, exposing the dangers of complacency on human rights

Trump administration quits UN Human Rights Council, exposing the dangers of complacency on human rights

The Trump administration has announced that it will quit the UN Human Rights Council, effective immediately.

Daniel Webb, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, is in Geneva for the current session of the Human Rights Council. Mr Webb said the move was widely expected by advocates and diplomats and is the latest step in the United States’ retreat from human rights and multilateralism.

"It’s no secret that Trump hates human rights – just ask the kids he is ripping away from their parents at the US border. Human rights are fundamentally about compassion and respect. Trump is not. So it’s no surprise to see him lash out at the world’s highest human rights body," said Mr Webb.

"We have massive cultural complacency around human rights in Australia. That’s why governments think it’s ok to imprison innocent children and families on remote islands for five years. But what Trump has exposed is that the very concept of universal human rights – the very notion that people are equal and deserve compassion and respect – can no longer be taken for granted."

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The widely expected announcement comes one day after the UN Human Rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, condemned the Trump administration’s "unconscionable" practice of ripping apart migrant families and detaining children at the US border. It also comes two days into a three week session of the Council – Australia’s second as a member. 

"At this pivotal moment in the history of human rights, the crucial question for our government is whether they will continue to be part of the problem – undermining the very foundation of human rights with hollow words and unprincipled actions, or will they actually own some principles, step up and become part of the solution?"

Mr Webb acknowledged that the UN Human Rights Council was not perfect but said it continued to play a crucial role in supporting victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world and in holding despots and dictators to account.

"This is the system that is helping expose the genocide and ethnic cleansing happening in Myanmar right now. This is the system condemning the use of chemical weapons and the killing of children in Syria, and calling for the release of journalists imprisoned around the world for speaking truth to power," said Mr Webb.

"If we want a world where people are treated fairly and humanely – where victims of cruelty and injustice aren’t just abandoned to suffer at the hands of dictators and military regimes – then now more than ever we need governments like ours to stand up for human rights and play a principled and constructive role on the UN Human Rights Council."

Daniel Webb will be available for comment from the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)