The United States has said it will “re-engage” with the United Nations Human Rights Council, almost three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the panel.
In a statement on Monday announcing the decision, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the council as a “flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel”.
“However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage,” Blinken said.
He added that President Joe Biden had instructed the State Department to “re-engage immediately and robustly” with the council.
The @UN Human Rights Council is flawed and needs reform, but walking away won’t fix it. The best way to improve the Council, so it can achieve its potential, is through robust and principled U.S. leadership. Under @POTUS Biden, we are reengaging and ready to lead.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) February 8, 2021
The Trump administration withdrew from the council in 2018, accusing the 47-member body of “chronic anti-Israel bias” and “hypocrisy” for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members, including China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela.
Opponents of Trump’s withdrawal said the decision left a void for documented human rights abusing states to fill.
The US’s return to the council is the latest instance of the Biden administration seeking to strengthen its connection to multilateral organisations after four years of Trump’s “America First” policy.
Since leaving the council, the US delegation has attended only reviews to examine the human rights records of all UN member states – not the council’s regular sessions held three times a year. Its main annual session opens on February 22.
We welcome the US’s decision to reengage with the @UN Human Rights Council. Together, we can shine a spotlight on human rights abuses and promote fundamental freedoms around the globe. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 https://t.co/Rmr4AktbtB
— Karen Pierce (@KarenPierceUK) February 8, 2021
The US cannot automatically regain membership, however, instead needing to wait for elections towards the end of the year.
The Biden administration plans to seek one of three full-member seats that will be vacant when the current terms of Austria, Denmark and Italy expire at the end of 2021.
“While recognising the council’s flaws, we know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world. By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential,” US diplomat Mark Cassayre said before an organisational meeting of the council on Monday.
British ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce hailed the US announcement, tweeting on Monday: “Together we can shine a spotlight on human rights abuse and promote fundamental freedoms around the globe.”