United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has announced her resignation from the position. This has come as a surprise to many and prompted conspiracy theories in addition to her stated reasons.
While New Zealand leaders have spoken of UN reform, Haley took tangible steps toward important changes. New Zealand has focussed on reforming the veto held by permanent members of the Security Council but Haley showed leadership in areas where the UN clearly failed to live up to its potential.
Haley was most visible and outspoken against the anti-Israel bias in the United Nations. Her first U.N. press briefing from February 2017 became the most-viewed speech of any U.N. ambassador in history. In that speech, she said, “The United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias”.
And she acted on those words:
- Haley’s June, 2018, speech that highlighted the hypocrisy of ignoring “The world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen where millions were at risk of starvation and the situation in Burma, where almost a million innocent people had been driven from their homes in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Instead of addressing these desperate needs the focus was Israel. “What makes Gaza different for some is that attacking Israel is their favorite political sport. That’s why we’re here today.”
- Haley defended the US embassy move to West Jerusalem in May, saying “…That peace will only be achieved if it is rooted in the realities that too many choose to deny. The United States’ action yesterday promoted the reality and the desire for peace. It is our sincere wish that the nations of the world will join us in this pursuit of credible, realistic, and enduring peace.” New Zealand voted for a resolution condemning the move – a ‘disrespectful’ stance that Haley said “will be remembered” by the US.
- Haley called for reform of UNRWA – a “faulty political organisation” she said was not serving the Palestinians and defended the US withdrawal of funds. New Zealand donates approximately $1m each year to UNRWA and has never criticised its corruption, promotion of antisemitism, links to terror, role in continuing the conflict, or inefficiency.
- Haley led the US withdrawal from UNESCO over anti-Israel bias, Haley stated, “The purpose of UNESCO is a good one. Unfortunately, its extreme politicization has become a chronic embarrassment”.
- Haley led the US withdrawal from the Human Rights Council, she said it “was not worthy of its name” and “an exercise in shameless hypocrisy” because of the disproportionate focus on Israel and lack of attention to other, more important, human rights issues.
In her resignation letter, Haley also highlighted the US cut of $1.3 billion in the U.N.’s budget saying this “made it stronger… made it more efficient“. She also recognised the US-led arms embargo on South Sudan, the sanctions on North Korea that have contributed to the tangible progress toward denuclearisation, and the US reevaluation of the Iran nucelar deal.
And all this has been done with the grace of a true statesperson, exemplified in her response to Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who said she should “shut up” with her criticism of Abbas – “I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator, Saeb Erekat. I will not shut up. Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths,”
It is precisely Haley’s courage to speak those hard truths in a forum dominated by leaders who actively suppress dissent in their own countries that is so powerful and has garnered widespread respect.
Standing up for truth and principles at the United Nations is not easy when a majority of countries are non-democratic. Iran has already expressed pleasure at Haley’s resignation, with Alireza Miryousefi, Iran’s mission to the UN’s press secretary writing that “New Sheriff in town is no longer“, referring to Haley’s 2017 comment at AIPAC, and apparently hopeful of less accountability than Haley demanded of the theocracy at the UN.
Regardless of who will replace Haley, she has shown a commitment to principled human rights and a courage to call out wrongs where she has seen them. As UN Watch tweeted
“Human rights victims worldwide found a champion in Nikki Haley who fought for their freedom and human dignity with exemplary courage, eloquence & grace. History will remember her together with other legendary figures as one of the great American ambassadors to the United Nations.” UN Watch
Haley has also spoken hard truths to her boss, outside the UN arena, writing an op-ed in the NY Times saying that when she disagrees with President Trump, she tells him to his face. She also said women who accuse Trump of sexual misconduct “should be heard.”
While the New Zealand government focusses on changing Security Council veto as its attempt to promote reform at the UN, Haley acted to bring substantive change in some of the most egregious areas of Human Rights abuse. She challenged the despots and the dictators, leading principled stands against abuse of the UN and made it clear that at least one country wasn’t going to stand by while a majority allowed the international body to be satirised for political gain. Hopefully, her replacement will continue to put principle ahead of politics.