UN rights council no place for abusive regimes: US envoy

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley denounced what she said was the UN Human Rights Council's "anti-Israel bias" (AFP Photo/Fabrice COFFRINI) (AFP)

Geneva (AFP) - US envoy Nikki Haley on Tuesday urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to throw out abusive regimes and end its "anti-Israel bias", warning its credibility was at risk.

Haley did not explicitly threaten to quit the body if Washington's concerns were not addressed, a prospect that first emerged in February in a leaked letter by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

But in a speech in Geneva, she said "the United States is looking carefully at this council, and our participation in it.

"Being a member of this council is a privilege, and no country who is a human rights violator should be allowed a seat at the table", Haley added.

US concerns about the UN rights body pre-date President Donald Trump's election.

Washington has long denounced the agenda item dedicated exclusively to criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

It has also raised concerns about a nomination process that often sees prominent rights abusers elected to one of the council's 47 rotating seats.

While Haley has escalated those criticisms since becoming Washington's UN ambassador, her Tuesday speech was mild compared to past remarks, including an assault she levelled in a June 2 Washington Post op-ed.

Writing in the Post, she asked "whether the Human Rights Council actually supports human rights or is merely a showcase for dictatorships that use their membership to whitewash brutality".

She argued that a system allowing regional blocs to nominate members which were then rubber-stamped by the General Assembly had turned the council into "a haven for dictators". Specifically, she singled out Cuba and Venezuela.

Haley doubled down on attacking Venezuela on Tuesday, urging Caracas to "voluntarily step down from its seat... until it can get its own house in order."

The country is reeling from two months of anti-government protests that have left dozens dead.

- Reform proposals -

Turning to Israel, Haley reiterated US concerns over unfair treatment of the Jewish state.

It "is essential that this council address its chronic anti-Israel bias, if it is to have any credibility", she said.

Israel is the only country with a dedicated rights council agenda item -- known as Item 7.

Israel and its allies have repeatedly chastised the council for allowing majority-Muslim states to pass a steady stream of resolutions each session denouncing abuses against the Palestinians.

Haley said Tuesday the United States had identified "some areas for significant strengthening" of the council and praised past resolutions that gave "hope to people who are fighting for justice".

She would outline a set of specific reform proposals later Tuesday in a speech at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, she added.

The head of Human Rights Watch's Geneva office, John Fisher, agreed with Haley that a reformed membership process would make the body stronger.

"All states from all regions should work together to end back-room deals on closed voting slates," he said in a statement. "It’s the best way to keep serial rights abusers off the council."