Russia Says U.S. Leaving Human Rights Council Has Made Its Work Much Easier

Russia has said President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations Human Rights Council has actually improved the international body's work.

Gennady Gatilov, Moscow's permanent representative to the U.N. and other Geneva-based organizations, made the remarks during a press conference Friday. When asked if the U.S. exit last month had an effect on the working atmosphere at the Human Rights Council, Gatilov responded saying, "It has, and, in our opinion, for the better," according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

"The atmosphere at the council has become much more constructive, the level of politicization and confrontational rhetoric has gone down," he said, adding that he hoped "this trend will continue in the future" in spite of fears that Washington leaving would negatively affect the body.

"The HRC continues work in an energetic mode, there is an active discussion of all items on the agenda," he continued, emphasizing that "the opportunity to become a member of the council is open to every country, including the United States."

Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov looks on at the opening of a Human Rights Council conference to raise funds for war-ravaged Yemen on April 25, 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Russia has sought to replace the U.S. on the council. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Gatilov claimed it was the U.S. itself who justified its exit "because U.N. member countries refused to support their offer to turn the council into a private club." The Trump administration announced its withdrawal on June 19, accusing the 47-member council of having a "chronic" bias against Israel, the only Jewish-majority nation in the world. The Human Rights Council has frequently issued condemnations of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, including the close U.S. ally's use of deadly force against unarmed protesters and occupation of land internationally recognized as Palestinian territory.

The administration of former President George W. Bush refused to join the Human Rights Council upon its creation in 2006 and the U.S. finally became a member under President Barack Obama in 2009. Trump has deeply criticized what he sees as unfair anti-Israel sentiments across U.N. agencies and announced in October that the U.S. would quit the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—which boasts 195 member states and 11 associate members—after it adopted resolutions critical of Israel and the controversial status of Jerusalem's holy sites.

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Speaking on the U.S. decision to leave the Human Rights Council in June, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called the council a "cesspool of political bias" that "makes a mockery of human rights." She called it "hypocritical and self-serving" in a joint press conference last month with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who labeled the council "a poor defender of human rights." In a tweet, Vice President Mike Pence claimed it "has engaged in ever more virulent anti-American, and anti-Israel invective."

The U.S. also argued that the council gave a platform to countries it accuses of human rights abuses, including China, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Venezuela. The same accusation has been made in regards to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia's membership. The U.S. decision to leave, however, made it the first country to ever voluntarily forfeit its membership to the Human Rights Council.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley delivers remarks to the press together with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the U.S.'s withdrawal from the U.N's Human Rights Council at the Department of State in Washington, June 19, 2018. The U.S. is the first country to voluntarily forfeit its membership to the council. Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters

With the U.S. out of the Human Rights Council, Russia has expressed a desire to take its seat. Russia's U.N. mission argued in a tweet following the U.S. exit that the council was meant to serve all members and that "The USA deliberately ignore this fact in their attempt to turn the HRC into [a] tool to promote only their interests."

The U.S. and Russia have accused one another of committing human rights abuses and war crimes. Both countries are involved in conflicts in the Middle East and, while Washington has sided firmly with Israel alone, Russia has maintained close relations with Israel along with strong ties to its rivals Iran and Syria. Unlike the U.S., Russia also recognizes both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, backing a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict between the two peoples.