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US seeks to end UN rights council's 'obsession' with Israel

Trump administration feels 'unbalanced focus' diverts attention from atrocities in Syria and Iraq
Trump met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month (AFP)

President Donald Trump's administration  is reviewing its participation in the UN Human Rights Council, and pushing for an end to its "obsession with Israel," a senior US official said on Wednesday.

Washington has long argued that the Geneva forum unfairly focuses on Israel's alleged violations of human rights, including war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The United States "remains deeply troubled by the council’s consistent unfair and unbalanced focus on one democratic country, Israel," Erin Barclay, US deputy assistant secretary of state, told the UN Human Rights Council.

Barclay said that no other nation had a whole agenda item devoted to it, and that an "obsession with Israel" threatened the council's credibility.

He questioned whether focusing on Israel was a sensible priority, adding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government was bombing hospitals while North Korea and Iran deny millions of their people freedom of religion, peaceful assembly and expression.

"In order for this council to have any credibility, let alone success, it must move away from its unbalanced and unproductive positions," Barclay said.

"As we consider our future engagements, my government will be considering the Council's actions with an eye toward reform to more fully achieve the Council's mission to protect and promote human rights."

The United States is currently an elected member of the 47-state Geneva forum, where its three-year term ends in 2019.

There was no immediate reaction from the UN human rights office, but council spokesperson Rolando Gomez told a press briefing: "The US has been a very active and constructive partner in the council for many years, spearheading a number of important initiatives, such as DPRK (North Korea), Iran, Syria, LGBT rights ... and many issues that are certainly on the agenda today."

He said that any country wishing to revoke its membership of the council would have to go through the General Assembly in New York.

The warning from Washington comes after the Obama administration abstained on a landmark UN vote that condemned Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told members of the Israeli Knesset that he had still not reached an agreement with the Trump administration regarding the construction of new settlements in the West Bank. 

Trump met Netanyahu in Washington earlier this month, where he broke a longtime US tradition of supporting the two-state solution, saying that he will back whatever solution is proposed by the parties to the decades-long conflict.

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