On Monday, President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. to immediately reengage with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), reversing a 2018 move by President Donald Trump’s administration to leave the U.N. body.
Announcing the decision Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “The Biden administration has recommitted the United States to a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality. Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision, and in that regard the President has instructed the Department of State to reengage immediately and robustly with the UN Human Rights Council.”
The Trump administration had pulled the U.S. out of the UNHRC in June 2018, citing “anti-Israel bias.” Then U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley also said the council is a “hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights” adding, “American participation is the last shred of credibility the council has. That is precisely why we must leave.”
Addressing the “anti-Israel bias,” Blinken said, “We recognize that the Human Rights Council is 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 U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”
Last year, the UNHRC appointed China to serve on its 47-member council. Terms on the council last three years and countries are ineligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
During China’s bid to rejoin the council, Haley said China is “one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.” Haley also said China’s position on the council is “proof that the US was right to leave the council, which does more to prop up oppressive regimes than advance the cause of freedom.”
China has faced criticism for human rights abuses such as the mass internment of its ethnic minority Uyghur population, and allegations it is committing genocide against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.
Other accused human rights abusers on the UNHRC include Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela.
Blinken said even with its flaws, the UNHRC can help to address human rights issues such as “freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and religion or belief as well as the fundamental rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ persons, and other marginalized communities.”
Blinken said, “To address the Council’s deficiencies and ensure it lives up to its mandate, the United States must be at the table using the full weight of our diplomatic leadership.”
NPR reported that the U.S. took a similar approach as Trump during President George W. Bush’s administration, and did not seek membership on the council out of concern it could legitimize human rights abusers on the U.N. body. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. reversed the Bush-era course and worked to affect change on the body from within. The Biden administration appears to be taking a similar approach with its reversal from the Trump position.