On July 13, after more than a year of negotiations, United Nations member governments agreed on a plan to tackle the nightmare of uncontrolled global migration in an organized and humane way. It wasn’t easy to bring everyone on board, but, in the end, 192 nations concurred: There had to be concerted action.
The UN, however, has 193 member countries.
While the rest of the world moves toward formalizing and implementing the ambitious if clumsily named Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration, the United States has laid claim to a position as a UN outlier.
Trump’s refusal to join in a global attempt to deal with a global problem was not a great surprise; the administration had not been part of negotiations since late last year. Instead—as the other nations met in a spirit of compromise on July 13—the Trump administration was busy trying to locate the approximately 3,000 children it had snatched from their desperate families in an orgy of immigration “enforcement” along the Mexican border.
As July draws to a close, the message from the UN seems clear: The world will go ahead as best it can without the United States. And there are indications that this is becoming an international trend.
In June, UN member nations began to respond institutionally to the Trump administration’s disengagement and criticisms. The United States has held a seat on the UN Human Rights Committee—a standing group of independent experts established to monitor adherence to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—since 1995. With the four-year term of the current representative, Columbia Law School professor Sarah Cleveland, set to expire at the end of the year, the Trump administration nominated conservative lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes, to take her place. With nine seats to be filled, the committee voted in representatives from Albania, Chile, France, Greece, Guyana, Japan, Slovenia, Tunisia, and Uganda. Prosper, the US nominee, was rejected.
Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and vice chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, said in an e-mail that this was “a first-ever defeat of a US candidate for the UN Human Rights Committee.”
Five days later, the US withdrew from the Human Rights Council, a 47-member body also chosen by member nations, separate from the Human Rights Committee. (The vacated US seat on the Council was later filled by Iceland.)
On June 29, the Trump administration’s choice to lead the International Organization for Migration, Ken Isaacs, was decisively defeated. The IOM, based in Geneva, is a decades-old leader in refugee resettlement that became an official part of the UN system in 2016. With help from other UN agencies, it is largely managing the UN response to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, and will direct the implementation of the global migration compact after it gets final approval by UN member states in December. Its leadership job went to a Portuguese politician, António Manuel de Carvalho Ferreira Vitorino, instead.