US rejoins UN Human Rights Council, reversing Trump exit

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The U.S. on Thursday was elected to serve on the U.N. Human Rights Council beginning next year, rejoining the highly scrutinized international committee after leaving it in 2018 under then-President Trump.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the move, saying the council plays a “meaningful role” in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, but suffers from “serious flaws,” including disproportionate focus on condemning Israel. 

“Together, we must push back against attempts to subvert the ideals upon which the Human Rights Council was founded, including that each person is endowed with human rights and that states are obliged to protect those rights,” Blinken said in a statement.

The secretary had announced in February that the U.S. would return to the council as an observer, part of President Biden’s push to reengage on the global stage in general and among international forums, in particular.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2018, part of a series of withdrawals from international bodies. Then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Niki Haley criticized the council as exercising a “chronic bias against Israel” and a “hypocritical” body that “makes a mockery of human rights.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday said the U.S. would use its term to “renew the Council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights in the U.N. charter, which undergird the Councils founding.”

He added, “Our goal is to hold the Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.”

The Human Rights Council is often lambasted for the election of members who hold the worst records for human rights violations and for a disproportionate focus on condemning Israel for alleged human rights abuses compared to other countries. 

Critics opposed to U.S. inclusion on the Human Rights Council say it legitimizes a body that includes or has included countries with serious violations of human rights. Supporters of U.S. inclusion say that participation is essential to implement changes.

Council membership is divided up by “equitable geographical distribution,” with 47 seats comprising countries in Africa, the Asia-Pacific States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Europe and other State and Eastern European States.

Countries are elected based on a vote among the majority of members of the United Nations General Assembly. States’ candidacies are evaluated based on their contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard, according to the U.N.

Member states last week voted down a resolution aimed at extending an investigation into war crimes in Yemen. The move is being viewed as an example of the council’s failure as a human rights arbiter, and a success in shielding Saudi Arabia from scrutiny over possible human rights atrocities.

Riyadh, which is at the head of a coalition supporting the Western-backed Yemeni government against separatist Houthis, has come under criticism for failing to mitigate civilian casualties and contributing to the worsening humanitarian crisis amid the country’s seven-year civil war.

Twenty-one member-states voted down the resolution, including Bahrain, a Saudi-ally, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Venezuela, The Guardian reported.

Eighteen, including Britain, France and Germany, voted to support the resolution. 

The council’s vote drew pushback from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, with his spokesperson answering in the affirmative to a reporters’ question if he believes there is still a need to investigate war crimes in Yemen.

“The short answer is ‘Yes,’ ” the spokesperson said.

Tags Antony Blinken Donald Trump Human rights Joe Biden Ned Price Nikki Haley United Nations Human Rights Council
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