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For the US, a Tale of Two Human-Rights Violations


Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN, with Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, on May 18, 2017. Hussein has publicly criticized authoritarian leaders who have been inciting violence in their countries. USUN

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, is positioning herself as a champion of human rights. But she appears to be highly selective about which countries or regimes she accuses of committing human-rights abuses. At the same time, she has been pushing hard for cuts to UN peacekeeping missions, which could hurt their work monitoring human rights.

On July 10, Haley criticized Burma’s refusal to grant visas to a three-person UN fact-finding team to investigate human-rights abuses by security forces in the country.

The UN Human Rights Council established an inquiry in March to investigate widespread allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in Burma (or Myanmar) after Rohingya insurgents committed deadly attacks on border posts. A February report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it was “very likely” that crimes against humanity were committed by security forces. The UN estimates that more than 90,000 Rohingya have been displaced since October.

Although the fact-finding mission has not been allowed in the country, the UN special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has been permitted to do so. However, her access to certain areas has been restricted. Lee, a South Korean, faced protests upon her arrival in Rakhine state on July 10. This is her sixth information-gathering visit to Burma. During her 12-day visit, Lee is planning to meet with authorities, community leaders, civil-society organizations and victims of human-rights abuses.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s de facto leader, has rejected the fact-finding mission of the other UN rapporteurs, saying the government can handle the investigation itself. On a trip to Sweden last month, she said that allowing the rapporteurs to investigate alleged atrocities in Rakhine state “would have created greater hostility between the different communities.”

Haley’s condemnation of the Burmese government’s actions received mixed responses on Twitter, where she had posted some of her criticisms. Some responses applauded Haley for promoting human rights, but others said she was not doing enough to help other oppressed groups in America and around the world. A few pointed out that Haley is quick to criticize Burma, but she sidesteps when it comes to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

While Haley spoke out about human-rights violations in Burma, she was absent from a UN Security Council meeting the next day, July 11, on the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, called Monusco. Haley sent her deputy, Michele Sison, to the session instead.

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Monusco is the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation. As it faced budget cuts by the UN Security Council earlier this year, its operational tasks have expanded and become more challenging. The Congo is supposed to hold its first democratic transition of power through a presidential election this year, but the head of Congo’s electoral commission told the Security Council on July 11 that it could not organize the vote before the Dec. 31 deadline. That date was brokered between the president, Joseph Kabila, and the opposition last year.

Sison, speaking in the Council, demanded that the commission specify a date for the election.

She said, in part, “we remain committed to ensuring MONUSCO is able to effectively fulfill its mandate. But an essential step to ensuring that history does not once again repeat itself in the DRC is to help the Congolese people complete a transition of power and make their voices heard through a credible, peaceful, and inclusive presidential election this year.”

Rather than committing to fully funding Monusco’s peacekeeping budget to see the election through, the US not only forced troop cuts to the mission in March but is also now threatening to impose sanctions on anyone impeding the election deadline.

As the US reduced Monusco’s budget for national political reasons — to appease the Trump White House and other Republicans in Congress — Haley expects ever more from the mission and the country, known as the DRC. The nation is experiencing a rash of violence in certain areas, including massacres.

To the reluctance of France and many other members of the Security Council, the cuts to Monusco were approved by the 15-member body the same week that the bodies of two murdered UN human-rights experts — an American and a Chilean-Swede — were discovered in the Kasai region of the Congo.

Yet, it took until June for Haley to call on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to initiate a special investigation into the murders, a request that Guterres has not acted on. A UN board of inquiry is investigating possible UN security lapses that may have contributed to the experts’ deaths, but the board is not assigned with finding the murderers.

Moreover, in June Haley celebrated other major reductions: this time for the overall UN peacekeeping expenditures in the 2017-18 budget period. The $6.8 billion approved so far by the UN General Assembly is much less than what Guterres requested, by $600 million, and less than the approved resources in the previous budget year. An additional $500 million may be authorized for the budget later this year.

“Just 5 months into our time here, we’ve cut over half a billion $$$ from the UN peacekeeping budget & we’re only getting started,” Haley boasted in a tweet on June 28.

Most recently, Haley met with the UN special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng. In addition to calling on regional leadership to stabilize the Congo, Haley and Dieng “agreed on the need for ensuring accountability for human rights violations.” She told Dieng that she was planning to visit the Congo in the fall.

But without adequate funding for UN peacekeeping to fulfill human-right mandates, it’s unclear who Haley expects to ensure that accountability.

This column, Nikki Haley Watch, will cover the US ambassador’s relationship to the UN and other relevant news. Tell us what you think:


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Kacie Candela is an assistant editor for PassBlue and a news anchor and reporter with WFUV, a public radio station in the Bronx, N.Y., where she covers the UN and other beats. Her work has won various awards from the New York State Associated Press Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, PRNDI, and the Alliance for Women in Media.

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For the US, a Tale of Two Human-Rights Violations
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6 years ago

Editor’s note: to clarify, PassBlue reporting on talks about China’s rise in the UN is based on comments made by UN officials or diplomats, conjecturing or not.

Yves Beigbeder
Yves Beigbeder
6 years ago

Haley also ignores human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines and others, where
diplomatic and business connexions prevail over human rights concerns. In this, the USA is not alone
among Western countries.

Hugh Dugan
6 years ago

The guilt/blame that you imply to be directed toward the US overlooks the Council’s dynamics and its other players, particularly China.

China is a P-5 and has a privileged role in peacekeeping authorizations which it pitches to its national interests predominantly with scant concern or reference to human rights components of UN field operations.

Earlier pieces in Passblue talk of China’s rise in the UN based on conjecture that the US is stepping back. If such were the case, then this piece needed to at least once refer to China and its pattern of ignoring or expunging human rights aspects of peacekeeping operations.

Thank you,
Hugh Dugan
Sharkey Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Fellow
The Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies
The School of Diplomacy and International Relations
Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ 07079

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