U.S. withdraws from United Nations human rights body

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday accusing it of a "chronic bias against Israel," a move that activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Standing with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting U.S. efforts to reform the council. She also criticized countries which shared U.S. values and encouraged Washington to remain but "were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo."

The United States is half-way through a three-year term on the main U.N. rights body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if the 47-member Geneva-based body was not overhauled.

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Nikki Haley through the years

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, nominee to be the US ambassador to the United Nations, walks through the Capitol to the Senate subway on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

Delegates pose for pictures with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (C) on the floor during the third session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 20, 2016.

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U.S.Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at the Federalist Society, 2016 National Lawyers Convention at the Mayflower Hotel, on November 18, 2016 in Washington, DC.

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Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley delivers remarks at the Federalist Society 2016 National Lawyers Convention in Washington, U.S., November 18, 2016.

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South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (L) and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio react on stage during a campaign event in Chapin, South Carolina February 17, 2016. Haley announced her endorsement of Rubio for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Escorted by staff and security, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (C) moves from one television interview to another across from the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Haley called for the death penalty for Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, if he is found guilty of murdering nine people during a prayer meeting at the church Wednesday night. Among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church which, according to the National Park Service, is the oldest black congregation in America south of Baltimore.

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, right, greets U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, at the first church service four days after a mass shooting that claimed the lives of nine people at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Church June 21, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Chruch elders decided to hold the regularly scheduled Sunday school and worship service as they continue to grieve the shooting death of nine of its members including its pastor earlier this week.

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South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks to press outside the Emanuel AME Church June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina.US police arrested a white high school dropout Thursday suspected of carrying out a gun massacre at one of America's oldest black churches, the latest deadly assault to fuel simmering racial tensions. Authorities detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead during a Bible study class on Wednesday evening.

(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Escorted by staff and security, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (C) moves from one television interview to another across from the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 19, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Haley called for the death penalty for Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, if he is found guilty of murdering nine people during a prayer meeting at the church Wednesday night. Among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church which, according to the National Park Service, is the oldest black congregation in America south of Baltimore.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley holds a news conference with fellow members of the Republican Governors Association at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce February 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. Republican and Democratic governors met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House Monday during the last day of the National Governors Association winter meeting.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley waves on stage during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Today is the first full session of the RNC after the start was delayed due to Tropical Storm Isaac.

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Former Florida Governor and potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush walks with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley during a visit to Sistercare, a non-profit that aids domestic violence victims and their children on March 17, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina. Bush announced in December that he 'actively explore' a presidential run in 2016. He is currently on a two day tour through South Carolina and will attend several fundraising events.

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Nikki Haley applauds the Claflin College Choir after their performance during her inauguration as governor of South Carolina, Wednesday, January 12, 2011, in Columbia, South Carolina.

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US Republican Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 15, 2013.

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Republican candidate for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) smiles along with her husband Michael Haley (L) and daughter Rena (C) as they watch the runoff election results at the Columbia Sheraton on June 22, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. Haley defeated Rep. Gresham Barrett in a runoff election.

(Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images)

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to the media prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 12, 2012 in Darlington, South Carolina.

(Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gives a birthday cake to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley during a campaign rally at Charleston Area Convention Center on January 20, 2012 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Romney continues to campaign for votes in South Carolina ahead of their primary on January 21.

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Nikki Haley speaks to supporters as she comes onto stage during an election party for Republican South Carolina Governor candidate Nikki Haley at the State Museum on June 22, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. Haley defeated Rep. Gresham Barrett in a runoff election.

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Republican candidate for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) smiles along with her husband Michael Haley (L) and daughter Rena (C) as they watch the runoff election results at the Columbia Sheraton on June 22, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina. Haley defeated Rep. Gresham Barrett in a runoff election.

(Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images)

South Carolina State Rep. Nikki Haley from Lexington, pictured on May 14, 2009, is launching a bid to become South Carolina's first female governor.

(Photo by Tim Dominick/The State/MCT via Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 22: Nikki Haley

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"Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights," said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Haley also said the "disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights."

Washington's withdrawal is the latest U.S. rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its "unconscionable" policy.

Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

Diplomats have said the U.S. withdrawal from the body could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan, which resist what they see as U.N. interference in sovereign issues.

Among reforms the United States had been seeking was to make it easier to kick out member state with egregious rights records.

Haley said the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council "is not a retreat from our human rights commitments."

Twelve rights and aids groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote Pompeo to warn the withdrawal would "make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world."

"The U.S.'s absence will only compound the council's weaknesses," they wrote.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said Trump's "misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests and betrays our values as a nation."

Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded the U.S. withdrawal and urged other countries to do the same.

Reuters reported last week that talks on reforming the council had failed to meet Washington's demands, suggesting the Trump administration would quit.

The council meets three times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide. It has mandated independent investigators to look at situations including Syria, North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan. Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.

Speaking before the U.S. announcement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of the U.N. and the active participation of all states."

When the Council was created in 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration shunned the body.

Under President Barack Obama the United States was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms on the council by the U.N. General Assembly. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.

In March 2011, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya's membership in the council because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But U.N. officials said no member has withdrawn.

Haley said a year ago Washington was reviewing its membership and called for reform and elimination of a "chronic anti-Israel bias." The body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that Washington wanted removed.

The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The United States and Australia cast the only "no" votes.

"The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel," said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth.

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