Remarks by Ambassador Nikki Haley upon receiving the Eleanor Roosevelt Award
UN Watch Gala, New York, December 5, 2019
Thank you so much. It’s great to be with everyone tonight, and Tony, thank you for that introduction.
I also want to thank Danny for his kind remarks. I feel like Danny and I are fellow veterans of a particularly long and taxing military campaign. We both went into battle every day at the United Nations for the United States, Israel and our enduring partnership. Over time, I came to regard Danny not only as a trusted colleague, but as a friend. So, thank you, my friend.
I want to congratulate Ambassador Alfred Moses on being recognized this evening for his 18 years of leadership of this organization. Ambassador, your leadership has been essential for the success of UN Watch. Congratulations and we thank you.
I want to give a shout out to UN Watch for holding this gala for the first time in New York City. This marks a significant milestone for the organization. Congratulations on escaping the high prices and crowded streets of Geneva for the affordable serenity of New York City.
I’m honored to receive this award tonight. Hillel and UN Watch were an irreplaceable source of facts and moral clarity when I was at the United Nations. Hillel is another guy you want in the foxhole with you at the UN. He’s fighting the good fight, every single day. I’m grateful to know he and his colleagues found me as reliable a voice for human rights as I found them. And I know our work will continue.
I will continue to have your back Hillel.
There is another, more basic reason why I am pleased to be honored by UN Watch tonight. Among the many, many organizations devoted to monitoring the United Nations, UN Watch is virtually alone in its dedication to what passes for a revolutionary idea at the UN. They judge the United Nations by, quote, “the yardstick of its own charter.”
“The yardstick of its own charter.” These are words that cause people to break out in a cold sweat at Turtle Bay.
The United States is a member of the United Nations because we believe in its purpose – the promotion and protection of peace, security and human rights. We believe in holding the UN to the standard of its founding principles. But you don’t have to spend too much time at the UN to see that what causes it to fall short of its principles isn’t just a few isolated people or a few isolated actions.
There is a culture at the United Nations that causes it, time and again, to fail to live up it its charter. It’s a culture of hypocrisy, entitlement, and unaccountability.
It’s also a culture of bullying.
I know something about bullying.
When I grew up, we were the only Indian family in a small southern town in South Carolina. We weren’t white enough to be white, or black enough to be black.
My parents were immigrants. My father wore a turban. He still does to this day. My mother wore a sari.
The people in our town didn’t know who we were, what we were, or why we were there.
There were times when I was bullied growing up.
So I know it when I see it. And I’ll never forget the first time I personally saw the culture of bullying at the United Nations.
Every month at the Security Council, there’s a session devoted to the Middle East. I came to refer to it as the monthly Israel-bashing session. This had gone on for decades.
I was shocked at what I witnessed.
I came out of that first session and publicly said, if we want to talk about security in the Middle East, we should talk about Iran, or Syria, or Hezbollah, or Hamas, or ISIS, or the famine in Yemen. There are about ten major problems facing the Middle East, and Israel doesn’t have anything to do with any of them.
Just about every month after that, I spoke about something other than Israel. I can’t say that we solved the problem, but I can say that several other countries followed our lead. What used to be a monthly Israel-bashing session, now, at least, has a little more balance.
The United Nations is a club. And like any club with rules and a culture, there is a constant pressure to abide by the rules; to conform to the culture.
When it comes to Israel, my predecessor, Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, called giving in to the anti-Israel pressure at the UN quote “joining the jackals.” He captured perfectly how that culture corrupts everyone it touches, not just with regard to Israel, but with many issues of conscience.
For the previous administration, being on the wrong side of a lopsided vote at the UN was a thing to be avoided. It was seen as America being, quote, “isolated,” as if that’s automatically a bad thing.
Ambassador Moynihan wisely pointed out the danger in trying to be popular at the UN. He said the only way countries like the United States can avoid confrontation at the United Nations isn’t by understanding the perspectives of others, but by adopting them.
This is the pressure that all pro-human rights countries feel. It’s just easier not to rock the boat. When the crowd is all going one way, it’s hard to be the only one going in the other direction.
But standing alone on behalf of American interests and values is not something to be embarrassed by. Standing alone for freedom and human dignity is something to be proud of.
In America, we don’t celebrate the mob. We celebrate the person who has the courage and conviction to stand up to the mob.
Now we’re seeing an example of this cultural corruption playing out in real time.
Canada has long been, balanced and fair-minded towards Israel at the United Nations. It has opposed the pull of the anti-Israel culture.
But Canada is now seeking one of the rotating two-year seats on the Security Council. It faces a vote in the General Assembly.
Two weeks ago, Canada surprised Israel’s friends by voting for a North Korean resolution that challenges the legitimacy of Israel. This is a resolution that Canadian governments for years have voted against.
One observer said Canada is making a quote “Faustian bargain” – trading its integrity for a seat on the Security Council.
I speak from experience when I say that the United Nations presents many such opportunities to strike a deal with the devil. Standing up for our principles and our allies is a constant struggle – which is another reason why I am so grateful to UN Watch.
The United Nations’ greatest failure when measured by the yardstick of its own charter is the Human Rights Council.
Eleanor Roosevelt saw the Human Rights Council as a place for conscience, not politics. She knew that if it was allowed to become a forum for hypocrisy and political point-scoring, it would do more to hurt the cause of human rights than it would to help it.
Tragically, this is precisely what has happened. Instead of protecting human rights, the Human Rights Council has long protected the tyrants, dictators, and strongmen who abuse them.
Not long after I became ambassador I went to Geneva, where the Human Rights Council sits, and put the United States on record: If the Human Rights Council was going to be a legitimate voice for universal human dignity, it needed to make urgent reforms. Chief among them were preventing human rights abusers from gaining seats on the Council and getting rid of the notorious Agenda Item Seven. Agenda Item Seven singles out Israel. No other country – not China, Cuba, Syria, or North Korea – is subject to this kind of unfair scrutiny.
My team at the UN spent a year trying to reform the Human Rights Council from the inside.
What we found surprised us.
It’s honestly difficult to say which was worse: the tolerance we encountered for human rights violators on the Council, or the hypocrisy of the countries that should have known better.
Of course China and Russia opposed our reform efforts. They have no problem with full-scale human rights abuses.
Frustratingly, almost all of the pro-human rights countries we spoke to agreed on the need for reform of the Council. But they refused to take a stand in public. They gave in to the culture of corruption.
Many encouraged us to remain on the Council because the United States, they said, provided the last shred of credibility the Human Rights Council had.
And that was precisely why we decided to leave. The United States should not lend any credibility to this cesspool of political hypocrisy and corruption.
Even more disappointing – if that’s possible – was the reaction of the nongovernmental institutions – the NGOs – that work alongside the UN on human rights. They agreed with the need to keep human rights abusers off the Council.
So you can imagine our surprise when the NGOs came out publicly against our reforms. They encouraged countries to vote against us.
Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch sided with Russia and China.
They told us they believed that opening up the Human Rights Council to changes would result in hostile amendments in the General Assembly that would make the Council even worse.
I can’t think of a clearer example of the corrupting culture of the United Nations. They are allowing the world’s worst actors to call the shots on human rights because … well, it could be worse.
In stark contrast, UN Watch has been a loud, principled, and consistent voice challenging the status quo. This organization has refused to go along with the crowd. You have had the courage and conviction to stand up to the mob. And for that, I thank you.
The United States rightly ended our participation in the Human Rights Council last year. Just two months ago, Maduro’s Venezuela was welcomed as a member.
Maduro’s Venezuela, where political opponents by the thousands are jailed and tortured.
Where the dictator has crushed the independent legislature and media.
Where the corruption and poverty has gotten so bad that the Venezuelan people dig through trash cans and slaughter zoo animals to feed their families.
Where the average Venezuelan adult has lost 24 pounds.
I know no one at UN Watch would ever say, “I told you so.” So I’ll say it for you.
We told you so. We told you the Human Rights Council is corrupt. We told you nothing will get better until there is serious reform.
But being tragically correct about the corruption of the Human Rights Council is not enough. It’s not nearly enough.
Venezuelans are suffering and dying while the UN honors their government with a seat on its premier human rights organization.
With us tonight is Diego Arria, the former Venezuelan ambassador to the UN.
Ambassador Arria has watched his country’s sad descent from a thriving democracy to the impoverished narco-state it is today.
The day after Venezuela was elected to the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Arria began a public campaign to have it removed under the founding rules of the Council.
If you take nothing else away from this evening, please take this: If we are serious about being advocates of human rights, Venezuela’s membership on the Human Rights Council cannot stand.
Please support Ambassador Arria in this effort. Make your voice heard. At stake is not just the health of the United Nations and the Human Rights Council.
At stake is the ability of the Venezuelan people to reclaim their freedom and human dignity.
The revolutionary notion that we are all children of God and entitled to His gifts is embedded in the founding purpose of the United Nations. It is at the heart of the American idea
This evening is a celebration of this truth. And I thank you for being a part of it.
It has been my honor to speak to you tonight. As long as I have a voice, I will never stop being the proud ambassador of this cause. I hope you will continue to join me.
Thank you and God bless you.