The Trump administration's withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council is part of a broader US deprioritisation of human rights internationally, at the same time as China, Russia and other states have grown more assertive in challenging democratic norms.  

In her new research brief released today by the United States Studies Centre, Non-Resident Senior Fellow Dr Elsina Wainwright, AM takes a look at this departure from previous administrations on human rights promotion; the role of the State Department and US Congress in filling the vacuum; and the implications for Australia.

"The Trump administration’s human rights posture is characterised by the president’s disinterest, though the administration’s tumult and lack of a coherent approach has enabled mid- and lower-level officials in the State Department to respond to human rights concerns at the local level," Wainwright says.

"For Australia, there is the potential for greater policy divergence with the United States if the Trump administration continues to disengage from the multilateral architecture Canberra supports.

"US silence on human rights and democracy is another instance of the president's disinterest in supporting the post-1945 rules-based order the United States helped create."

Key points

  • The Trump White House has systematically deprioritised human rights over the last 18 months in a major departure from previous administrations.
  • Canberra should continue to work with the Trump administration to flesh out its ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ strategy, including its governance promotion dimension. 
  • While taking account of strategic considerations and regional sensitivities, Australia should strengthen its own promotion of human rights and governance in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific to support the rules-based order.

View research brief

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