The USA Withdrew From The United Nations Human Rights Council: Here’s What That Means For LGBT and Americans Of Color

The United Nations Human Rights Council is a committee of 47 seats occupied by diverse, signatory nations of the United Nations General Assembly. This panel was established in 2006 in response to the inhumane treatment of minorities- specifically people targeted by their own governments based on their race, religion, gender or LGBT identities. The council, which rotates countries who occupy the seats every 3 years, with each having a maximum term of six years, is designed to assess threats to vulnerable citizens whose human rights come under threat and intervene on behalf of the United Nations. Countries that have committed heinous acts of abuse and violated the rights of it’s citizens are not permitted to participate in the council which is hosted in neutral territory, Geneva, Switzerland.

All signatories mutually agree to enforce the protection of human rights, both in their own nation, and stand against countries that enact policies or laws that, with bias, promote or provoke hostility toward specific communities of people.

That said, the UNHRC has come under fire in the past for allowing countries to occupy seats that have violated the rights of it’s own citizens. For example, Russia, whose Chechnya state we’ve recently seen conduct an anti-gay purge- was a member of the council as well as China and Saudi Arabia, all who have had concerning issues regarding Human Rights violations. It was because of the inclusion of countries who actions are counter-intuitive to the council’s founding purpose that George W. Bush and his administration boycotted the Human Rights Council, justifiably so. Many speculated that the councils actual purpose wasn’t to protect the citizens of sitting countries, but instead, protect their own governments from criticism for violating them, especially Russia, China and Cuba.

In 2009, President Barack Obama reversed the boycott and submitted his appeal for the United States to rejoin the Human Rights Council, assuming a leadership role which led other nations to believe the influence of the council was becoming much more substantial and its marred reputation somewhat restored.

Yet, while the council claims its purpose is to promote and protect the highest standards of human rights practices, it’s unclear exactly what power they wield. Seat members convene three times a year, in March, June and September to discuss the state of human rights violations, registering complaints from both organizations representing disenfranchised people and individuals, but one is hard pressed to find evidence of actual intervention or change of practice as a result of council discussions and debates. While they do issue statements condemning countries that exercise religious or politically motivated damage to their citizens, it seems that they are less capable to serve as a resource of rescue for those threatened and more like a group of international commentators with no real power to influence change. They can’t issue sanctions, execute collective military action or even subpoena a figurehead and charge them with a crime because they’re not a court. Are they simply representatives sitting around a table talking about what a shame it is that gay men and women are being wrangled like cattle and murdered in Chechnya without any justice? Do they look at the photos we’ve all seen of children running and screaming through the streets of Syria after having had their school bombed by Russia and simply send thoughts and prayers?

There are atrocities happening more frequently and visibly than ever before regarding the violation of human rights- even in America. So, what does it mean if we don’t have a seat at that table anymore?


It means absolutely nothing. It’s merely a panel discussion. We aren’t more vulnerable than we were before because of our withdraw- the fact is, we’re just as vulnerable whether we, as a nation, participate or not. If minorities in the United States continue to see a decline in quality of life and ability to thrive due to the oppressive stance this administration has taken against LGBT and people of color, this committee wouldn’t likely do anything but discuss it during their Swiss holiday. They might issue a statement condemning Trump and his policies, but it appears to be the equivalent of you, or me, standing outside the White House carrying a protest placard that reads “What you’re doing is bad.”

Except we’re not ruling dictatorsand some of the members of this council are.

The UNHRC seems to be wholly symbolic and little else more. At least, historically that is what has been demonstrated on the world stage. They exist in the context of theory, but not in practice, and that is a tragedy for every vulnerable civilian of every nation whose government has placed a target upon. That should be the most disturbing revelation to manifest from our departure from the Human Rights Council- It never mattered at all. They didn’t prevent the devastation of government sanctioned cruelty anywhere else in the world, what makes Americans think that pattern would shift just because it’s us at risk?

The concept is more terrifying when you realize there is no one- no organization, no committee, no representatives entrusted with the preservation of human rights in the face of oppressive regimes that can actually change anything. Dictators either simply scoff, recognizing this council has no jurisdiction in their territories, or they sign themselves up for the sake of appearances while violating the very rights they claim to protect.

Americans have, for the first time, found themselves under the hand of an administration spiraling out of control. It’s something we didn’t believe we could happen. Not here. The crimes against humanity are terrors we read about in other parts of the world most of us have never seen. We have gotten comfortably detached from the idea that we could one day find ourselves having our basic human rights contested. Our government and it’s heinous activity sparks outrage as far as a facebook status can reach, then we turn on Netflix to escape our own Upside Down. We minimize our distorted reality by turning it into a perpetual meme or cartoon satire to reject the reality- instead we turn it into reality television where we aren’t really effected.

Our withdrawal from the UNHRC spotlights the crippling truth that citizens of other nations have had to reconcile- our governments have no one to answer to. Participation in these ornamental peace summits are voluntary, not obligatory, nor requiring any provisional behavior. It looks good on paper, but the significance of involvement carries no weight for victims whose governments lock them away in filthy prison camps or enables the violent rape and torture of women, the murder of LGBT people and those subscribing to specific systems of religion not in alignment with leadership agendas. Remember; Notorious Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi, had his regime awarded the position of chairperson of the Human Rights Council in 2003 despite his acts of terrorism and crimes against humanity.

Many believe that the United Nations serves as a great protector. “The UN would never let that happen,” people think when it comes to their suffering. But they have, and they will. The political infrastructure and measures of self-interested diplomacy usurp justice for the people of the world.

I reacted with sheer horror upon discovering our departure from the Human Rights Council. I was shaken even further when I realized that they very existence of such a council was irrelevant and its purpose, hollow. Like so many criminal dictators, should Donald Trump gain that stronghold, he too will scoff at their finger wagging. They haven’t stopped anyone else, they certainly wouldn’t have any impact on Trump, his radical followers, or those who endure the damage as a result of his foul leadership.

Actor, Filmmaker, LGBTQ+ & Women’s Rights Activist All work copyright

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store