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Editorial: U.S. exit from U.N. human-rights council will not advance reforms

  • June 26, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 8:15 p.m.
  • English Press

It is difficult to say that the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is playing a sufficient role in improving the world’s human-rights situation, thereby gaining trust from nations around the world. That was exactly why the United States should have continued to promote reforms from within.


The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has announced his country will withdraw from the council. With its three-year term starting in January 2017, the United States still has half its term to serve. It is the first time for a UNHRC member to quit the body on its own.


As a reason for its decision to leave, the Trump administration cited a UNHRC setup under which a nation whose human-rights situation is open to question can become a council member if it collects a majority of votes cast at the U.N. General Assembly, as well as the council’s “political bias” against Israel.


There is some truth in the U.S. assertion that the council has become an arena for political conflict and is not properly functioning.

The list of 47 UNHRC members includes China, Cuba and Venezuela, who reject accusations and pressure regarding their infringements on human rights as “interference” in their domestic matters. Resolutions adopted to condemn Israel over the Palestinian problem vastly outnumber those against North Korea’s human-rights situation.


Such resolutions have no binding power, and it has not been possible to take any quick action to deal with humanitarian crises in Syria and areas surrounding Myanmar.


Similar defects were pointed out regarding the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the predecessor of the UNHRC. Although the commission was reorganized into the UNHRC as part of U.N. reforms in 2006, it must be said that there still is much room for improvement.


Japan has big role to play


It is worrying that the departure of the United States could lead to a further decline in the council’s function. An international human rights group has said that the U.S. move will amplify the voices of countries that disregard human rights. There is no doubt that the U.S. absence at UNHRC meetings will weaken the voices that are critical of Chinese and Russian heavy-handedness.


Trump has continued to turn his back on multilateral frameworks and international agreements. The United States is irresponsible as a major power as it prematurely decided to withdraw from these frameworks and agreements and has stood aloof from the aftermaths.


His “America First” policy, as well as his priority placed on defending Israel, has gone too far. It is regrettable that he is hurting trust in his nation’s fundamental principles, such as an emphasis on democracy and human rights.


Japan, a council member, has a great role to play in this matter. Efforts should be made to tackle problems facing the council while also more strongly urging other nations to deal with such issues as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.


In last year’s examination of Japan’s human-rights situation by the council, China and South Korea took up the comfort women issue and delivered criticism against Japan. A UNHRC special rapporteur on freedom of expression released a survey report stating that the Japanese government is exerting pressure on the media.


Political propaganda and fact-finding errors spread through the council cannot be overlooked. The government needs to continue actively responding to the matter through such means as resolutely refuting and correcting these mistakes.


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