US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said yesterday that human rights violations have triggered conflict in Syria, stifled dissent in Burundi and led to repression in Myanmar. But Russia and China have disputed her contention that human rights violations are a main driver of conflicts.
The Indian-American Haley also said the next international crisis could come from North Korea, Iran or Cuba where human rights are widely disregarded.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, have questioned the Trump administration’s decision to focus on human rights at the UN Security Council in light of its own actions.
The United States holds the UN Security Council presidency this month and initially wanted the debate under a new agenda item for the council entitled ‘Human Rights and International Peace and Security’. But many council members didn’t want the UN’s most powerful body, which is charged with ensuring international peace and security, to also focus on human rights.
So in a compromise, the US Mission agreed to hold the meeting under an old agenda item: ‘Maintenance of international peace and security’, with a focus on ‘human rights and prevention of armed conflict’. That still didn’t leave at least half a dozen council members happy, which was reflected in their statements.
Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Evgeny Zagaynov said the Security Council has no mandate to consider human rights which are discussed elsewhere at the UN. He objected to the US contention that rights violations are “a main precondition for armed conflict” and to its assertion that protecting human rights is “a key instrument” to prevent conflict.
China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi never mentioned the words human rights and dismissed the US statement that rights violations cause conflicts.
China is committed to addressing the root causes of conflicts, he said, and they include “extreme poverty and balanced development, shortage of resources and ethnic and tribal conflicts.” But Haley warned the council that if it fails to take human rights violations and abuses seriously, “they can escalate into real threats to international peace and security.”
“The Security Council cannot continue to be silent when we see widespread violations of human rights,” Haley said. But Akshaya Kumar, the deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch, said that “unless the United States is prepared to seriously address human rights abuses committed by its allies like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, a theoretical debate about human rights issues at the Security Council won’t improve the council’s work.”
“If the Trump administration wants to burnish its reputation on rights it should address problems at home such as its discriminatory travel ban on people from six Muslim majority countries,” she said.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council that “human rights concerns are intrinsic to maintaining peace and security and essential to informing Security Council deliberations and decision-making”, especially to avert mass atrocities.