US slams rights groups, says aided its withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council


UNITED NATIONS, June 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed rights groups on Wednesday for thwarting Washington's attempts to reform the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council and said they had contributed to the Trump administration's decision to withdraw.

In a letter to at least 17 rights and aid groups, seen by Reuters, Haley berated them for urging countries not to support a U.S.-drafted General Assembly resolution titled "Improving the Effectiveness of the Human Rights Council."

"It is unfortunate that your letter sought to undermine our attempts to improve the Human Rights Council. You put yourself on the side of Russia and China, and opposite the United States, on a key human rights issue," Haley wrote.

"You should know that your efforts to block negotiations and thwart reform were a contributing factor in the U.S. decision to withdraw from the council," she said in the letter that was received by groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

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The United States withdrew on Tuesday from what Haley dubbed a "hypocritical and self-serving" Human Rights Council over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform. The United States was half-way through a three-year term on the Geneva-based 47-member body.

Human Rights Watch U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said the U.S. draft General Assembly resolution "could have backfired badly and the process could have been hijacked" by the countries seeking to undermine the Human Rights Council.

"This suggestion that somehow it's the human rights groups that are undermining the U.S. attempts to improve the Human Rights Council is preposterous," said Charbonneau. "The idea that we human rights groups are aligned with Russia and China - countries that we criticize all the time - is absurd."

China, Britain and the European Union lamented on Wednesday Washington's decision to withdraw from the Human Rights Council as Western countries began looking for a substitute for the coveted seat.

Russia's mission to the U.N. in New York posted on Twitter late on Tuesday: "U.S. attempts to blame the whole world for the politicization of HRC work are especially cynical. The response of international community was clear - U.S. found themselves isolated in this issue."

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. The United States has also quit the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO over accusations of anti-Israel bias. (Reporting by Michelle Nichols Editing by Tom Brown)