The United States Withdrawal from the Human Rights Council: A Political Move that has Limited Consequences or Serious Legal Ramifications?

Picture of the panel with Felix Kirchmeier, Kamelia Kemileva and Sarah Cleveland Picture of the panel with Felix Kirchmeier, Kamelia Kemileva and Sarah Cleveland

In a note verbale which was copied to the President the US informed the President of the Human Rights Council on 20 of June 2018 that they have : “resigned (their) membership in the Human Rights Council, effective at 1700 Eastern Daylight Time, June 19, 2018. The United States will not participate further in the June HRC session or future sessions and will not serve out the remainder of its term.”

Upon receipt of the formal notification, the United States ceased to be a member. As from that date onwards, they were considered an Observer State to the Council.

The debate organized by the Geneva Academy aimed at introducing a legal discussion on the USA’s decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council; it did not advocate for any political position.

Experts and participants concluded that the United States might come back any time through new elections, although the question about their human rights commitments remains open. So is the question about their further engagement with other mechanisms of the Human Rights Council such as Special procedures and Universal Periodic Review.


The United States Withdrawal from the Human Rights Council

On 19 June 2018, the United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council. This was the first time that a member has voluntarily left this major human rights body, though not the first time that the US has chosen to abstain from participating in the HRC work. Panelists discussed the legal consequences of this withdrawal for the functioning and credibility of the HRC, and for the promotion and protection of human rights, the extent to which this decision will affect US’ collaboration with UN  Special Procedures and UPR & the impact on the UN and multilateral diplomacy.


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