The United States on Tuesday singled out North Korea and Syria over human rights violations and warned at the United Nations that new conflicts could be triggered by abuses in Iran, Cuba and North Korea.
US ambassador Nikki Haley made the case at the Security Council that more attention should be focused on rights abuses to prevent conflict, a view challenged by Russia, China and other countries at the UN body.
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"When a state begins to systematically violate human rights, it is a sign, it is a red flag, it's a blaring siren -- one of the clearest possible indicators that instability and violence may follow and spill across borders," said Haley.
Turning to Syria, she recalled that the war, now in its seventh year, began with anti-government protests, and took a swipe at the council for being "reluctant to address" the crisis early on.
In North Korea, "systematic human rights violations underwrite the country's nuclear and ballistic missile programs," she argued.
"The next international crisis could very well come from places where human rights are widely disregarded. Perhaps it will be North Korea or Iran or Cuba," she said.
Haley also mentioned cases of torture in Burundi and Myanmar's crackdown on ethnic Rohingyas as human rights concerns.
The United States, which holds the council presidency this month, was able to hold the meeting on human rights following negotiations with countries that did not want it to be a formal agenda item. Seven countries -- Russia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Senegal -- raised objections, with many arguing that the UN Human Rights Council was the venue for such discussion.
In the end, human rights were discussed under the existing "international peace and security" agenda item at the Security Council.
During the meeting, Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi devoted his remarks on poverty as one of the root causes of conflict and notably did not mention human rights.
"All nations should take development as a first priority," he said.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Evgeniy Zagaynov argued that the Security Council would be extending its mandate of preserving peace and security if it were to tackle human rights.
Such a move would lead to a "politicization" of the Security Council and "lower trust" in its work, argued the Russian envoy. In a jab at the United States, Bolivia argued that joining the International Criminal Court would help advance human rights. The United States has not signed the Rome statute establishing the ICC.
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Human rights groups were skeptical of the US push for the meeting, raising questions about President Donald Trump's commitment to ending violations.
"If the Trump administration wants to burnish its reputation on rights, it should address problems at home such as its discriminatory travel ban on people from six Muslim majority countries," said Akshaya Kumar, deputy UN director at Human Rights Watch.
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