Reports have suggested that the United States is considering pulling out from the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) and halting funding. A final decision has yet to be made on the matter, but considering the opinions and statements emanating from the Trump administration, this withdrawal might be a real possibility. What such a development – if it happens – means for the international human rights protection regime is a complex question, but it is certain that it represents a weakening of an already strained system.

The Trump administration’s concerns with the body are the same as those of Republican administrations before him – only the reaction is more extreme. The body is criticised for being biased against Israel and not focusing enough on other areas where human rights violations are rampant. While it is true that UNHRC has condemned Israel more times than all other UN bodies, many considers that these condemnations are justified considering its actions in the occupied Palestinian territories, and the US’ claims disingenuous due to its stated policy of protecting Israel in the UN.

But the merits of UNHRC’s coverage of Israel matters little, the question is, will the US withdraw or not? There is precedent that suggests that it will. The Bush administration refrained from joining the body in 2006 when it was reconstituted from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and that decision continued till the Obama administration reversed it. The Congress has withheld funding in the past, and the US has even withdrawn its observer status by 2008, so it would not be a surprise if the Trump administration – which has taken extreme positions on conservative issues – went down that path again.

This would undoubtedly undo years of progress made by the UNHRC. The lack funding is certainly a blow to investigative and observational operations, but the loss of legitimacy will be the biggest problem the body will have to face. Currently it deals with complaints and crisis by initiating confidential negotiations with the accused nations and incrementally working towards improving their human rights protections. If the US – already considered by many to be “above” international law – decides to withdraw from the process, the body would have a difficult time getting countries like Saudi Arabia and Sudan to comply.

Once more, international law, human rights and treaty protections will be looked at through the lens of ‘realpolitik’ and vested interests, instead of being viewed through established principle. The UN’s moral authority is weak as it is, this would damage it a little more.