Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told the United Nations’ Human Rights Council that it needs to make changes if it wants continued American support.
His demand comes after a high-ranking Israeli official urged the U.S. to withdraw from the organization.
“The Human Rights Council deals with demonizing Israel and with efforts to harm it by distorting reality,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told Tillerson last week.
In a letter to several groups that have been urging the United States to remain active in the council, Tillerson told the U.N. advocates and human rights groups that the U.S. “continues to evaluate the effectiveness” of the council.
Foreign Policy reported that the U.S. expressed skepticism about a group with nation members such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all with poor human rights records.
“We may not share a common view on this, given the makeup of the membership,” Tillerson wrote.
He continued, “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 wrote in the letter that the U.S. would keep participating in the council even as they “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”
The administration of former President George W. Bush cited the council’s anti-Israel bias as its reason for not joining in 2006 when the council was formed. The Obama administration changed course in 2009 and joined the council.
Last week, Erin Barclay, who has been America’s envoy to the council said the group focuses its attacks on Israel.
“Regrettably, too many of the actions of this council do not support these universal principles. Indeed, they contradict them,” she said.
“No other nation is the focus of an entire agenda item… The obsession with Israel… is the largest threat to this council’s credibility,” she said. “It limits the good we can accomplish by making a mockery of this council. The United States will oppose any effort to delegitimize or isolate Israel.”
Tillerson said U.S. priorities include renewing the mandate of a U.N. Commission of inquiry into atrocities in Syria, and underscoring U.S. support for U.N. observers for Iran, North Korea and Burma.
Although some see Tillerson’s comments as a prelude to an American withdrawal form the council, others expect the U.S. is seeking to reform the council, not leave it.
“I’m afraid this seems to signal that they want to pull out,” said Felice Gaer, of the Jacob Blaustein Institute. “If you want to change the Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel it is by being present that it will happen, not by being absent.”
Peter Yeo, the President of the Better World Campaign, said the U.S. is putting pressure on the group to change.
“I think the administration is signaling its intention to pursue far-reaching reforms of the Human Rights Council, including reducing the disproportionate focus on Israel,” he said.