Tillerson: UN Human Rights Council must reform or US will leave

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is vowing that the U.S. will leave the United Nations’ Human Rights Council if the organization does not undertake “considerable reform.”

“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,” he wrote in a letter to nine nonprofit organizations this week, according to Foreign Policy.

Tillerson told the U.N. advocates and human rights groups that the U.S. “continues to evaluate the effectiveness” of the council but is skeptical about being in a group with nations such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have poor human rights records, Foreign Policy reported.

Tillerson added that the U.S. would keep participating in the 47-member council’s ongoing session while U.S. officials would “reiterate our strong principled objection to the Human Rights Council’s biased agenda against Israel.”

Multiple State Department aides told Foreign Policy that U.S. withdrawal from the council is not imminent but remains a real possibility.

“If they don’t make these reforms, we’re going to question the value of our membership,” a senior aide to Tillerson said. “We’re not taking withdrawal off the table. Our aim is to fix the organization.”

Foreign Policy noted Tillerson was responding to a Feb. 9 letter from the nine groups including the Better World Campaign and Freedom House, among others.

The collection argued the U.S. could better help Israel by remaining on the council and added the organization has helped hold the world’s worst human rights abusers accountable.

“American leadership in the Council over the last seven years has helped shift that dynamic,” they wrote, referencing the Obama administration’s move to join the U.N. council in 2009.

“Since 2009, the Council has increasingly trained a spotlight on rogue regimes and terrorists, commissioning independent investigations that have exposed serious human rights abuses in North Korea, Iran, Syria, [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] and Boko Haram.”

President Trump’s administration has told State to cut more than 50 percent of U.S. funding to U.N. programs, according to reports on Monday.

The U.S. spends about $10 billion annually on the U.N., and the cuts could have the greatest impact on peacekeeping, the U.N. development program and UNICEF, which are funded by State’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

Read more: The Hill