US calls out Myanmar in Security Council’s first ‘thematic debate’ on human rights

A UN Security Council meeting. Photo: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council on Tuesday held its first debate on human rights not connected to a particular conflict. The debate was initiated by US ambassador Nikki Haley, who called out the usual suspects – Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and Iran – in her remarks.

“The traditional view has been that the Security Council is for maintaining international peace and security, not for human rights. I am here today asserting that the protection of human rights is often deeply intertwined with peace and security. The two things often cannot be separated,” Haley said at the session.

“In case after case, human rights violations and abuses are not merely the incidental byproduct of conflict. They are the trigger for conflict.”

Myanmar, which for years had largely avoided being mentioned among America’s least-favorite countries, made it back onto the list on Tuesday for its persecution of the Rohingya.

“We continue to watch Burma, where the security forces have allegedly conducted episodes of violence and repression against ethnic Rohingya, who already face widespread ethnic and religious discrimination from governmental authorities and popular social movements, even despite the human rights gains achieved throughout the country as a result of Burma’s ongoing democratic transformation,” Haley said.

“Such treatment drives desperate people to flee to neighboring countries at best or to radicalization at worst. These sorts of allegations demand real, independent investigations as soon as possible. This is why we supported the recent establishment of an international fact-finding mission to look into these allegations.”

Haley’s remarks, however, are unlikely to have much impact at the UN. The debate quickly descended into a shaming session among Security Council members.

Furthermore, Haley’s positioning of the US as the world’s “moral conscience” has been perceived as farce.

The New York Times characterized Haley’s debate as “a bid to show that the Trump administration cares about human rights around the world,” even as Trump’s policies tell the opposite story. Human rights groups have pointed out that the Trump administration has been sued for its visa ban targeting Muslim-majority countries, and Trump has also been criticized for personally praising the increasingly oppressive leaders of Egypt and Turkey.

“If the US administration wants to show it has a genuine commitment to human rights, then it needs to take a serious look at its recent policies,” Sherine Tadros, the head of the New York office for Amnesty International, told the Times. “You can’t have directives coming from Washington that are distinctly anti-human rights and then say you’re championing human rights at the UN.”


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