2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?

January 26, 2017

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Already on 22 November 2016 Colum Lynch posted in “Foreign Policy” an insightful piece entitled: “The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump”.  It records the thinking of senior UN staff and NGO leaders who are going to confront a Donald Trump with a hard-line national security team. They fear that a Trump presidency could spur a global retreat from international human rights principles, marking the dawn of American leadership (see long extracts from the piece below) on green. Now – on 26 January 2017 – Daniel Warner in his weekly blog in the Tribune de Geneve wrote a post entitled: “The U.N., Trump and Cassandra” in which he reports that a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the total disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill – tried before in 2015 – may not pass, but the writer fears it reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. See his words below marked in blue.

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The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, informed his staff in the weeks following the U.S. election that they will have to serve as the front line in an international effort to check any excesses on the human rights front. A chief concern, officials say, is that if the U.N. doesn’t call out its most powerful member for straying from universally accepted human rights norms, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. “We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”

…..Still, Trump’s campaign pledged to restore waterboarding, deport millions of undocumented migrants, and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. …

The U.N.’s approach to human rights is particularly tricky for the incoming U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who headed the U.N. refugee agency for nearly 10 years. Guterres has been an outspoken champion of refugees, pressing European governments, as well as the United States, to resettle far larger numbers of refugees. Two weeks after Trump called for his ban on Muslims last December, Guterres admonished the Security Council, saying, “Those that reject Syrian refugees because they are Muslims are the best allies in the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups.” But Guterres may be constrained as the leader of the United Nations, a job that requires a close relationship with the United States and other big powers. ……

That makes it likely that Zeid will take the lead on human rights. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Zeid, a Muslim prince from the Jordanian royal family, has repeatedly excoriated Trump, telling reporters in December that his threat to ban Muslim travel to the United States is “grossly irresponsible.” In September, Zeid included Trump, along with France’s Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, on a list of “populists, demagogues, and political fantasists” who promoted their arguments grounded in “half truths and oversimplification.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

Some U.N. officials say Zeid’s criticism of the U.N.’s most powerful country could strengthen his hand in disputes with other U.N. members, particularly those from the developing world who have long accused the United Nations of applying greater pressure on small powers for breaching human rights norms, while letting the United States and other big powers off the hook. Other U.N. officials fear that Zeid may be exposing the organization to a battle with the U.N.’s most powerful players that he can’t win. In September, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin formally protested Zeid’s public denunciations of Trump and other European nationalists. “Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time, and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin told The Associated Press.

More recently, Zeid tangled with China over his attendance at a ceremony for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which honored a Uighur economist, Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence on charges of fomenting separatism and violence. A senior Chinese official appealed to Zeid not to attend the event, according to a U.N. official. But Zeid refused, insisting that he had an independent mandate to shed light on human rights violations wherever they occur, including China.

Even before Trump’s election, U.N. officials believed that human rights were under threat from authoritarian governments, including China, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey, which have been engaged in major crackdowns on civil liberties at home. “They are backsliding on human rights, but from a position of weakness,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Both [Vladimir] Putin and Xi Jinping are engaging in the worst crackdowns in their countries in two decades, each driven by the terror as to how their countries will react to a weakening economy; they’re trying to snuff out in advance opposition they anticipate.”

Roth said there is a real danger that Trump and other populist leaders will accelerate the curtailment of human rights. “The entire human rights movement is weary about Trump,” he said. “It’s not clear what his values are. That is why his initial appointees are so important.” Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, fears Trump’s controversial positions, including torture and deportation, would embolden smaller countries. When big powers, particularly the United States, tread on human rights the world tends to follow. If smaller countries, such as Burundi and Kenya, hear Trump threatening to cast out foreign refugees they may choose to act in kind, Christopoulos said. Saudi Arabia threatened this year to cut funding to U.N. relief programs and to lead a walkout by Muslim states from the United Nations if the U.N. didn’t lift its name from a list of countries that killed or maimed children in armed conflict, according to a senior U.N. official. In its defense, Saudi officials noted that the United States had shielded its closest Middle East ally, Israel, from being included on the same list in 2015. It was only fair, therefore, that Riyadh be spared the shame of being included on the list...

Rights advocates say the rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States represents a potentially existential threat to the human rights movement, as governments that once championed the cause on the international stage head into retreat. Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has railed against “left-wing human rights lawyers” who are seeking the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has proposed that London withdraw from key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that potentially expose British troops to prosecution. A generation of European nationalist leaders, including Le Pen and Wilders, who had been on the fringe of the European political spectrum, have seen their electoral prospects grow in the face of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. That has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of the “only outspoken leaders on human rights,” Roth said. In her first statement following Trump’s election, Merkel said she would work closely with Trump, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the dignity of men regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”

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Daniel Warner further wrote: Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?

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Sources:

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump | Foreign Policy

The U.N., Trump and Cassandra : Le blog de Daniel Warner

see also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/23/2017-4-canadas-year-of-real-human-rights-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/24/2017-5-with-trump-us-president-sweden-must-stand-up-for-human-rights/

2 Responses to “2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?”


  1. […] 2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras? […]


  2. […] See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/26/2017-6-predictions-on-trump-and-the-un-prophets-or-cass… […]


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