Trump White House: Insensitive to Human Rights Concern
In early March, when the U.S. Department of State annual global report (for 2016) on human rights practices was released in Washington, the Trump administration departed from a very-long practice of ceremonially presenting it in the presence of America’s top diplomat the secretary of State.
Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State was conspicuously absent.
On March 21, the Trump administration boycotted the hearing in Washington before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, first time in its history.
The Trump administration was widely criticized for its insensitivity to human rights concerns.
Late last week, Secretary of State Tillerson decided to lift all human rights conditions on major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain, a blatant human rights violator, to bolster Sunni Arab states to confront Iran in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain is a key player in that effort, and home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
This decision was a reversal of previous practices that no American weapons, light or heavy, sold or provided to state department-identified violators of international humanitarian law. Under the Leahy Law ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1997, state department instructs American arms manufacturers not to sell military hardware to countries that it has identified.
Sri Lanka was barred from purchasing arms from American manufacturers in 1987, under the Leahy Amendment to the (US) Appropriations Bill, when its military was on the verge of defeating the separatist Tamil Tigers in the Vadamaratchi Offensive, and during the final (2006-2009) military offensive against the Tigers. Sri Lanka had to turn to other sources on both occasions.
In mid-March, Secretary Tillerson in a letter to nine non-profit organizations warned that the United States may withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) if it does not undertake “considerable reform”. In this threatening letter Tillerson said “We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.”
Earlier last week, American ambassador to UN Nikky Haley, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential non-governmental organization in Washington, declared that the UN needs the “breath of fresh air”, and questioned the “value” to Americans of the UN Human Rights Council.
Ambassador Haley described the United Nations on 29 March before the Council on Foreign Relations as the “moral conscience” of the world, and dismissed the UNHRC as “so corrupt”.
It is no secret in Washington that the brain behind all these maneuvers and ‘possible’ policy decisions is the alt-right Stephen Bannon, President Donald Trump’s ‘chief strategist’ in the West Wing aided and abetted by the president’s son-in-law Jered Kuchner.
Secretary Rex Tillerson’s letter said that the UNHRC required “substantial reform” if the US is to remain involved. In his letter to the UN advocates and human rights groups he said that while the United States “continues to evaluate the effectiveness” of the Council, it remains skeptical about the virtues of membership in a human rights organization that includes states with troubled human rights record. “We may not share a common view on this, given the makeup of the membership, Tillerson said “while it may be the only such organization devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate.”
Tillerson’s threat to withdraw and Ambassador Nikky Haley’s description of the UNHRC as ‘corrupt’ cast severe doubt on Trump administration’s relationship with the United Nations and the role that the US will play in advocating for human rights around the globe during Trump’s tenure in office.
President Trump wants the state department to cut US funding to the UN by about $5 billion a year. The White House budget proposals released early March have drastically reduced federal funds to the state department by 29%. This affects the functioning of the UNHRC.
Tillerson and others in the Trump administration have also questioned the validity of the 2005-UN-adopted Responsibility To Protect (R2P), a mandate given to the UN to deploy military forces to countries that, in the opinion of the UN, engage in ethnic cleansing or genocide.
The Asian Tribune learns that Trump administration’s ‘intended’ departure from Obama’s human rights approach using the UN and UNHRC as weapons to intervene in domestic affairs of many countries has become a hot political topic among the diplomatic community in Washington. It is well known that President Trump’s Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon is behind many policy planks already declared by the administration.
- Asian Tribune -