What will Nikki Haley do at the UN?

By Sunjeev Bery, Middle East North Africa Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA.

It’s official: Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is now President Trump’s top diplomat at the United Nations. Her confirmation by the U.S. Senate comes at a time when the Trump Administration is already taking multiple steps that are hostile to human rights. By the time this blog is published, there will likely be even more trouble on the horizon.

In her new job as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., will Haley be a megaphone for Trump Administration policies and rhetoric that are averse to human rights?? Or at a time of multiple global crises, will she strive to avoid making matters even worse?

Here are some of our top areas of concern:

More Torture?

Multiple governments around the world already use torture to inflict brutal pain upon critics and dissidents. They include U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, whose government uses torture to force confessions from people wrongly accused of committing crimes.

Credible reports have emerged of a draft Trump executive order that would pave the way for a return of secret CIA prisons and U.S. torture. Would Haley defend such a policy and give a green light to other governments to do the same?


The global refugee system is broken, leaving an estimated 21 million refugees in search of safety around the world. Now President Trump has signed an order that indefinitely bans Syrian refugees; bans people from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days; and temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days. The executive order builds on the anti-Muslim fear-mongering and xenophobia from Trump’s time as a candidate for office.

Will Haley advocate for such policies at the U.N., creating political space for other governments to follow suit?

Undermining Maternal Health?

Universal access to reproductive health is a key goal of the 2030 U.N. Agenda for Sustainable Development. Despite this, access to safe sexual and reproductive care continues to be a major challenge for millions of women around the world.

During her confirmation hearings, Haley said that she supported access to contraception, but President Trump’s “Global Gag Rule” will deeply impact poorer women around the world by reducing access to reproductive health services. To put it bluntly, more women and girls will die.

How will Haley ensure access to safe sexual and reproductive care for all women and girls?

Protecting Human Rights Defenders:

People should never be harassed, jailed or killed for their peaceful activism. And yet, all around the world, there are brave activists who risk grave consequences because they stand up for human rights. In some cases, their governments are targets of U.S. criticism. In others, their governments are U.S. allies — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Turkey are just a few examples.

President Trump has repeatedly praised repressive leaders in Russia, Egypt, and reportedly, the Philippines. Will Haley toe the White House line, or will she use the U.N. spotlight to stand up for those who criticize the governments that repressive them?

Fighting Bigotry and Discrimination:

Many governments around the world discriminate against and otherwise violate the human rights of women and minority groups. Both as a candidate and as President, Trump has demonstrated his own willingness to subject minorities and women to the same treatment. How would Haley ensure that discrimination will not become further entrenched in U.S. foreign policy? Or will Trump Administration actions make it easier for other governments to justify their own practices of discrimination?

The Security Council and the Veto:

Russia and China have consistently blocked meaningful U.N. Security Council action to stop the crisis in Syria. For decades, the U.S. vetoed U.N. efforts to stop Israeli settlements and violations of Palestinians’ human rights. This changed in the final days of the Obama Administration, when the U.S. allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution opposing Israeli settlements.

During her confirmation hearings, Haley repeatedly criticized Russia’s role in war crimes in Syria. But at the same time, she opposes allowing the U.N. Security Council to take action to hold U.S. ally Israel accountable for its own violations. How will Haley push Russia and China to drop their vetoes of strong U.N. action on Syria while simultaneously shielding Israel from similar U.N. actions?

Every Government Under the Spotlight:

Every country in the world appears before the UN Human Rights Council to be reviewed for its human rights record. As imperfect as the U.N. Human Rights Council is, it represents a step in the right direction for building global accountability for human freedom. Will the United States continue to participate in this review? Will Nikki Haley push to ensure that other governments do so as well?

The U.N. at a Crossroads

In a deeply flawed world, the United Nations offers one important path for solving global challenges, advancing human rights, and upholding international law. It is true that governments can act in self-interest by attempting to block the U.N.’s ability to solve global problems. But President-elect Trump’s rhetoric of tearing down the institution is not the answer.

Historically, the U.S. played a major role in establishing the U.N. This in turn made it possible for the U.N. to help build the global foundations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The next U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. can either help build that legacy — or destroy it.

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