US says it will return to ‘flawed’ UN human rights council

Secretary of State Blinken says Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the council ‘did nothing to encourage meaningful change’.

The Trump administration withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, citing alleged bias against Israel [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

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 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.

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.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies