U.S. envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the UN's Human Rights Council on Tuesday that it must "address its chronic anti-Israel bias if it is to have any credibility" after the council's chief decried Israel's occupation.
Haley, who holds cabinet rank in U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, said last week Washington would decide on whether to withdraw from the Council after its three-week session in Geneva ends this month.
"The United States is looking carefully at this Council and our participation in it. We see some areas for significant strengthening," Haley told the Geneva forum in her first address.
The forum's critical stance of Israel has been a major sticking point for its ally the United States. Washington boycotted the body for three years under President George W. Bush before rejoining under Barack Obama in 2009.
The UN's top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, opened the Council's three-week session earlier by calling for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, saying it would benefit both sides after 50 years of enmity.
In his opening speech, the rights chief decried over 2,000 years of Jewish suffering culminating in the "colossal crime" of the Holocaust.
Al-Hussein, who is a Jordanian prince, acknowledged that some people would respond "that the experiences of the two peoples are not equivalent: How could I mention them in one breath?
"Indeed, I agree: The Holocaust was so monstrous and so mathematically planned and executed, it has no parallel, no modern equal," he said.
In a reference to the Six-Day War, when Israel took control of the West Bank, the rights chief said he "first heard the sound of war" as a boy in Amman, Jordan.
He said Palestinians were now marking "a half-century of deep suffering under an occupation imposed by military force" and marked by "systematic" violations of international law.
Israelis also deserve freedom from violence, al-Hussein said, adding: "Maintain the occupation and for both peoples there will only be a prolongation of immense pain."
The rights chief also called out members such as Venezuela, Egypt, Nigeria and the Philippines for blocking multiple UN expert visits to these human rights hot spots.
"Most astonishingly, despite having been elected to this council in 2015, Burundi continues to commit some of the most serious human rights violations dealt with by this council," he said.
While China has let in rights monitors, they have not been able to move freely, al-Hussein criticized.
Washington has questioned the legitimacy of the UN rights council, pointing not only at serious violations committed by some members, but also at the council's strong focus on Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory.
Washington's envoy, Haley, also called for the Council to address serious human rights violations in Venezuela and for the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to give up its seat in the 47-member UN forum unless it gets its "house in order."
The 47-member forum adopted five "biased" resolutions on Israel and the Palestinian territory at its March session, but never even considered a resolution on Venezuela, she said.
Some activists urged Washington to focus on abuses at home.
"It's hard to take Ambassador Haley seriously on U.S. support for human rights in light of Trump administration actions like the Muslim ban and immigration crackdowns," Jamil Dakwar, director of the human rights program at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Reuters.
"The United States must get its own house in order and make human rights at home a – then, it can begin to credibly demand the same of other countries abroad."
Under Trump, Washington has broken with decades of U.S. foreign policy by turning away from multilateralism. His decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement last week drew criticism from governments around the world.
DPA and AP contributed to this report.
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