The top American diplomat on Saturday rebuked the U.N. Human Rights Council as “a haven for dictators and the democracies that indulge them” a day after it commissioned a report on racism and police brutality.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the decision to authorize the report "marks a new low" in the 47-nation council's history and demonstrates why his boss, President Donald Trump, decided to withdraw the United States from the world's top human rights body in 2018, only nine years after it first joined.
"The United Nations Human Rights Council, now comprised of Venezuela and recently, Cuba and China, has long been and remains a haven for dictators and democracies that indulge them," he said in a press statement on the "hypocrisy" of the council. "It is a grave disappointment to those genuinely seeking to advance human dignity. Even so, the council’s decision to vote yesterday on a resolution focusing on policing and race in the United States marks a new low."
On Friday, in the wake of international protests over George Floyd’s killing by police, the council’s African Group won consensus approval for a resolution that condemned the police brutality that led to the killing of Floyd, a Black man, by a White police officer, and commissioned a report from the U.N. human rights chief and outside experts.
The report will be overseen by Michelle Bachelet, a former president of Chile who heads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR, and several U.N. special rapporteurs, or investigators, for specific themes. She is expected to give regular updates on police brutality against Black people and report back to the council in June 2021.
Their job is to “prepare a report on systemic racism, violations of international human rights law against Africans and people of African descent by law enforcement agencies, especially those incidents that resulted in the death of George Floyd and other Africans and of people of African descent, to contribute to accountability and redress for victims,” the resolution says.
But it was a significant step back fr0m earlier requests that the council authorize two separate U.N.-mandated Commissions of Inquiry — one for the United States, the other for the rest of the world — that could exhaustively probe racial injustice and police violence against protesters. Burkina Faso’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, Dieudonné W. Désiré Sougouri, said the resolution showed the world “heard the plight” of Black people, but acknowledged the African Group made “concessions” to win its approval.
Since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, demonstrators have led Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. The 46-year-old man’s heart stopped beating while a White police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground, keeping a knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, even after he lost consciousness. Floyd’s last words, as he lay face down and handcuffed, were, “I can’t breathe.”
U.S. and global racial injustice
Pompeo seemed to reject the council report as outside interference, saying civic discourse about Floyd's tragic death "is a sign of our democracy’s strength and maturity. Americans work through difficult societal problems openly, knowing their freedoms are protected by the Constitution and a strong rule of law. We are serious about holding individuals and institutions accountable, and our democracy allows us to do so."
But the report aims at both historic U.S. and global racial injustice and police brutality. Hundreds of advocacy organizations, along with the families of other victims of U.S. police violence, and even Floyd's brother, Fhilonise Floyd, pleaded with the Geneva-based council to establish two Commissions of Inquiry.
“I am my brother’s keeper. You in the United Nations are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd,” he said. “I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us — Black people in America.”
Human Rights Watch's executive director, Kenneth Roth, said on Twitter that "Pompeo has been Trump's chief international enabler," as the president embraces foreign dictators and "displays utter disregard for human rights."
The c0uncil was first created at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva in 2006, replacing an earlier U.N. Commission on Human Rights. Then-President George W. Bush’s administration refused to join. Three years later, under then-President Barack Obama’s administration, the United States reversed course.
It became one of the council's few members willing to push to expose abuses in places like Cambodia, Congo and South Sudan, and was at times the sole nation willing to call out China for reported violations.
Announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the council in 2018, Pompeo and then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the United States would relinquish its voting rights but remain an observer to the council. They complained of “unconscionable” bias by the council against Israel, and a lack of credibility because the council allowed nations such as China, Cuba and Venezuela to become members.
The council’s members this year include half of the top 10 most corrupt countries — Somalia, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Sudan and Congo — according to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
"Unfortunately, the council has once again reaffirmed the wisdom of our decision to withdraw in 2018. If the council were serious about protecting human rights, there are plenty of legitimate needs for its attention, such as the systemic racial disparities in places like Cuba, China, and Iran," Pompeo said in his statement.
"If the council were honest," he said, "it would recognize the strengths of American democracy and urge authoritarian regimes around the world to model American democracy and to hold their nations to the same high standards of accountability and transparency that we Americans apply to ourselves."