U.S. Opposition to Breast-Feeding Resolution Stuns World Health Officials

A resolution to encourage breast-feeding was expected to be approved quickly and easily by the hundreds of government delegates who gathered this spring in Geneva for the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly.

Based on decades of research, the resolution says that mother’s milk is healthiest for children and countries should strive to limit the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Then the United States delegation, embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers, upended the deliberations.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

The showdown over the issue was recounted by more than a dozen participants from several countries, many of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the United States.

Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor for the resolution, but at least a dozen countries, most of them poor nations in Africa and Latin America, backed off, citing fears of retaliation, according to officials from Uruguay, Mexico and the United States.

“We were astonished, appalled and also saddened,” said Patti Rundall, the policy director of the British advocacy group Baby Milk Action, who has attended meetings of the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, since the late 1980s.

“What happened was tantamount to blackmail, with the U.S. holding the world hostage and trying to overturn nearly 40 years of consensus on best way to protect infant and young child health,” she said.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

The State Department declined to respond to questions, saying it could not discuss private diplomatic conversations. The Department of Health and Human Services, the lead agency in the effort to modify the resolution, explained the decision to contest the resolution’s wording but said H.H.S. was not involved in threatening Ecuador.

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

Although lobbyists from the baby food industry attended the meetings in Geneva, health advocates said they saw no direct evidence that they played a role in Washington’s strong-arm tactics. The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

The intensity of the administration’s opposition to the breast-feeding resolution stunned public health officials and foreign diplomats, who described it as a marked contrast to the Obama administration, which largely supported W.H.O.’s longstanding policy of encouraging breast-feeding.

During the deliberations, some American delegates even suggested the United States might cut its contribution the W.H.O., several negotiators said.

Washington is the single largest contributor to the health organization, providing $845 million, or roughly 15 percent of its budget, last year.

The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues.

In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.

During the same Geneva meeting where the breast-feeding resolution was debated, the United States succeeded in removing statements supporting soda taxes from a document that advises countries grappling with soaring rates of obesity.

The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a W.H.O. effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts.

[The New York Times]

US leaving UN Human Rights Council — ‘a cesspool of political bias’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced the United States is withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council Tuesday, accusing the body of bias against US ally Israel and a failure to hold human rights abusers accountable.

The move, which the Trump administration has threatened for months, came down one day after the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border as “unconscionable.”
Speaking from the State Department, where she was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley defended the move to withdraw from the council, saying US calls for reform were not heeded.
“Human rights abusers continue to serve on, and be elected to, the council,” said Haley, listing US grievances with the body. “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in its ranks.”

‘Deeply disappointed’

“For too long,” Haley said, “the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Based in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is a body of 47 member states within the United Nations tasked with upholding human rights.
Membership on the council gives countries like the United States a voice in important debates over human rights atrocities, but the council’s critics, including Haley, say abusers use their membership to guarantee their own impunity.
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a statement: “Today the U.S. took a stand against some of the world’s worst human rights violators by withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. By elevating and protecting human rights violators and engaging in smear campaigns against democratic nations, the UNHRC makes a mockery of itself, its members, and the mission it was founded on. For years, the UNHRC has engaged in ever more virulent anti-American, and anti-Israel invective and the days of U.S. participation are over.”
The UN expressed disappointment. “The Secretary-General would have much preferred for the United States to remain in the Human Rights Council,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said in response to the US announcement. “The UN’s Human Rights architecture plays a very important role in the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide.”
The move was immediately condemned by a dozen charitable groups, who wrote to Pompeo to say they were “deeply disappointed with the Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the premier intergovernmental human rights body at the global level.”

‘A so-called Human Rights Council’

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” they added.
Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary-general, said: “Once again President Trump is showing his complete disregard for the fundamental rights and freedoms the US claims to uphold. While the Human Rights Council is by no means perfect and its membership is frequently under scrutiny, it remains an important force for accountability and justice.”
US withdrawal from the council follows efforts by Haley and the US delegation to implement reforms, including more stringent membership criteria and the ability to remove members with egregious human rights records.
“When a so-called Human Rights Council cannot bring itself to address the massive abuses in Venezuela and Iran, and it welcomes the Democratic Republic of Congo as a new member, the council ceases to be worthy of its name,” said Haley. “Such a council, in fact, damages the cause of human rights.”
Haley also blasted the council for a “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel,” citing a series of resolutions highlighting alleged abuses by the Israeli government of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Haley said the United States will continue to promote human rights outside of the council and would consider rejoining it in the future if reforms are made.
“We have used America’s voice and vote to defend human rights at the UN every day,” she said, “and we will continue to do so.”

[CNN]

Trump Reportedly Growing Suspicious of UN Amb Nikki Haley’s Ambitions, Possibly For His Job

President Trump may have a bone to pick with yet another member of his administration: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

A new report from The New York Times alleges that the president “grew angry” at Haley’s Sunday show appearances, specifically when she stated that the U.S. would be placing fresh new sanctions against Russia. However, he supposedly is questioning her “political ambition, jealousy, resentment and loyalty.”

Since the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Haley has become the face of foreign policy, especially since the chemical attack that took place in Syria. However, the White House has been keeping her out of the loop, which led to the public dustup between her and WH economic advisor Larry Kudlow.

But according to administration officials and insiders, he has “grown exasperated by her outspokenness” about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Who wrote that for her?” Mr. Trump reported yelled at his television during a Sunday show appearance. “Who wrote that for her?”

Per the NYT:

Mr. Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Mr. Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job.

Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Ms. Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.

Aides to both scoff at such suggestions, but the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that he plans to run for re-election. The talk was exacerbated in recent days when Mr. Pence named Jon Lerner, Ms. Haley’s deputy, as his new national security adviser, while allowing him to keep his job at the United Nations.

[Mediaite]

In Closed-Door UN Meetings, Trump Administration Officials Pushed Abstinence For International Women’s Health Programs

In closed-door meetings at the United Nations in March, Trump administration officials pushed socially conservative views on women’s rights issues — including abstinence-based policies over information about contraception — that were further to the right than those expressed by most other countries present, including Russia and the representative for the Arab states, UN officials who attended the meetings told BuzzFeed News.

The Trump officials’ approach at the UN meeting makes it clear that the administration intends to extend its views on abortion, contraception, and sexual education beyond US borders to an extent that is unusual even for Republican administrations.

The comments came during the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, a two-week session described by a spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations as the UN’s “most important meeting on women’s empowerment.” The main event is a closed-door negotiation on language to include in an annual UN document that sets global standards and outlines potential policies pertaining to gender equality efforts in all member countries.

Early in this series of meetings, Bethany Kozma — a senior adviser for gender equality and women’s empowerment at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and anti-transgender activistemphasized that the US was a “pro-life nation,” sparking a strong reaction from delegates in the room, two officials in the room confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

“When she said that there was sort of a record scratch and silence,” one UN official who participated in the negotiations but asked not to be named so as to maintain a working relationship with the other member states present told BuzzFeed News. “Everyone was like, ‘are you kidding me?’”

Shannon Kowalski, the director of the International Women’s Health Coalition, said that the Trump administration’s stances on women’s health presented in the meeting were “further to the right” than they were at last year’s commission, or even under George W. Bush’s administration. While the Bush administration implemented anti-abortion policies abroad, the scope was limited to family planning programs. Trump’s policies already expand beyond those limits.

“They’re far more extreme than the US was under the Bush administration,” Kowalski told BuzzFeed News shortly after the session wrapped up. “We saw placement of ideologues within key roles who took similar positions back then, but they limited what they applied their views to.”

Throughout the two-week session, Trump administration officials discussed shifting international policy on women toward abstinence-oriented education and teaching women sexual “refusal skills.” Those views — as well as the US’s push for more conservative policies on immigration, trade and environmental regulation — ended up uniting most of the 45 CSW member states against the US on family planning issues, six sources who attended or were familiar with meetings told BuzzFeed News.

While negotiations at the UN are often political, two officials familiar with the negotiations said that they had never seen nearly all of the other membership states — many of whom have wildly different stances and priorities on family planning issues — come together against the US. The members include several countries where abortion is illegal and punishable by fines or jail time.

The Trump administration has not been shy about its stance on abortion. On his third day in office, President Donald Trump instated an expanded version of the Mexico City Policy, a rule that prevents the US from funding organizations that provide or discuss abortions with the populations they serve. While most Republican presidents have used that policy, Trump’s version applies to all US health funding abroad — not just family planning funds that prior Republican administrations regulated. This includes organizations devoted to curbing HIV/AIDS, which the Bush administration left alone, Kowalski said.

[Buzzfeed]

Trump nominee to lead migrant agency shared Clinton, DNC conspiracies

President Trump’s pick to lead a United Nations migrant relief organization made hundreds of comments pushing conspiracy theories about Islam and Democrats, according to a CNN investigation published Thursday.

Ken Isaacs, the Trump administration’s choice to lead the UN’s International Organization for Migration, has faced additional scrutiny after CNN uncovered old social media posts where he appeared to equate all Muslims with terrorists.

On Thursday, CNN published a new trove of past comments.

CNN found that Isaacs also shared conspiracy theories about the Clintons and about the death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

In the summer of 2016, Isaacs tweeted that Switzerland should consider building a wall in the Alps to keep refugees from crossing the border, and responded to a terrorist attack in Nice, France, by saying Islam “is not peaceful.”

Last August, he retweeted a user who claimed climate change is a “big hoax,” and wrote that scientists “can’t predict path of a visible storm yet but certain of manmade climate change.”

Isaacs previously apologized after CNN uncovered his initial comments about Muslims, saying his social media use was “careless.”

He declined to comment on Thursday’s story, and the State Department pointed to a past statement of support for his nomination.

If confirmed, Isaacs will lead the International Organization for Migration, which oversees the use of roughly $1 billion in migrant aid across the world.

[The Hill]

Trump Threatens to End American Aid: ‘We’re Watching Those Votes’ at the U.N.

President Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off American aid to any country that votes in favor of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly denouncing his recent decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Mr. Trump’s statement, delivered at his last Cabinet meeting of the year, followed a letter from the American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, in which she warned that the United States would take note of any country that votes in favor of the measure.

“All these nations that take our money and then vote against us at the Security Council or the assembly, they take hundreds of millions of dollars and billions of dollars and they vote against us,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Mr. Trump added that “people are tired of the United States — people that live here, our great citizens that love this country — they’re tired of this country being taken advantage of and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer.”

It is difficult to see how Mr. Trump could deliver on his threat to cut financial assistance, since it could involve cutting off aid to a number of strategic allies. The United States has given $77.4 billion in foreign aid to Egypt between 1948 and 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service, including about $1.3 billion in annual military aid since 1987.

The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on Thursday on a resolution that would condemn Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, which is fiercely contested by Israelis and Palestinians, and urge other countries not to move their embassies to that city from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Trump said earlier this month that the United States would move its embassy to Jerusalem, though administration officials said a move was several years away because of logistical issues in constructing a new embassy complex.

On Monday, the United States used a rare veto to block a resolution in the Security Council calling for the administration to reverse its decision on Jerusalem. The vote on the resolution, which was drafted by Egypt, was 14 to 1, suggesting there would be a similarly lopsided margin against the United States in the 193-member General Assembly.

[The New York Times]

US to Withdraw From UNESCO Cultural Agency

The Trump administration on Thursday said it would withdraw the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing anti-Israeli bias from the organization.

UNESCO was informed of the administration’s decision on Thursday. The State Department said the U.S. would instead seek to be a permanent observer to UNESCO, which promotes collaboration among countries through culture, education and science.

This is not the first time the United States has withdrawn from the organization, nor is it the first time the United States has criticized UNESCO for anti-Israeli bias. The United States also withdrew from the organization during the Cold War under President Ronald Reagan.

During the Obama administration, the U.S. slashed $80 million per year of its funding for the organization, according to Foreign Policy, a move that followed UNESCO’s admittance of Palestine as a member.

The cuts have increased the money owed by the United States to UNESCO to $500 million, the magazine reported.

Fights over Israel and the Palestinian cause have been frequent flashpoints for the United States under past administrations.

Israel last year summoned its UNESCO ambassador after the organization declared that one of Jerusalem’s holy sites is specifically a “Muslim holy site of worship,” according to Reuters.

The U.S. will still be involved with the organization “as a non-member observer state,” the State Department said.

The goal is “to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.”

The withdrawal will become official on Dec. 31, 2018.

[The Hill]

U.S. votes against U.N. resolution condemning death penalty for LGBT people

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner such as consensual same-sex relations. Along with 13 other nations, the United States voted against it. Instead, the U.S. sided with allies such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Bangladesh, China and India also voted against the measure, which still passed along a 27-13 margin.

“The resolution asked countries that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not ‘applied arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner’ and that it is not applied against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities and persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as pregnant women,” according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA).

The resolution does not outlaw the use of the death penalty. Instead, it merely condemns its use in cases of “apostasy, blasphemy and adultery” an other similar instances.

“It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in States where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love” Renato Sabbadini, Executive Director of ILGA said. “This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end.”

LGBT rights activists criticized President Donald Trump’s administration and U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, for not supporting the resolution. Yet, don’t go thinking this stance is anything new or localized to the 45th president’s administration. The U.S. has never voted to support any U.N. measure that condemns the death penalty in any way. The Obama administration did abstain from a similar vote in 2014, according to BuzzFeed News, though that one did not contain provisions for LGBT individuals.

[Salon]

Update

The Trump State Department said they voted against the resolution “because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances, and it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether. ”

Watch here: https://twitter.com/StateDept/status/915291301540593664

However if you look at the text of the resolution on page 3 bullet point 2, it very clearly says it calls upon all states that have not already abolished the death penalty to consider doing so.

Read the resolution text here: http://undocs.org/A/HRC/36/L.6

That isn’t even close to the State Department’s description. She is lying through her teeth.

Trump Congratulates African Leaders for Making His Friends Rich

President Donald Trump on Wednesday was met with silence when he congratulated the leaders of African countries on the continent’s economic progress, telling them, “I’ve so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you. They’re spending a lot of money.”

Trump delivered the remark at a luncheon he hosted with the leaders of many of the 54 diverse nations on the African continent. And while Trump almost certainly meant it as compliment, and even seemed to pause for applause, not one attendee clapped.

For centuries, Europeans and Americans have exploited Africa’s natural resources and labor force, not least during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In the post-Colonial era, the U.S. government has supported dozens of authoritarian regimes on the African continent, while American companies have made billions of dollars from deals with dictatorships.

Since taking office in January, Trump has nominated ambassadors to only around a dozen African nations, despite having recalled all Obama-era ambassadors before he was inaugurated. This means that the vast majority of nations on the continent do not currently have a U.S. ambassador with whom they can conduct bilateral diplomacy.

During the same speech, Trump also mispronounced Namibia as “Nambia,” saying very clearly that “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.”

A White House transcript confirmed that Trump meant to say Namibia.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

[CNBC]