The United States on Thursday secured a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 over body hypocrisy and anti-Israel bias.
In seeking to rejoin the 47-member council, the Biden administration, which has taken a far more supportive stance towards the United Nations than its predecessor, argued that if the United States were a member seeking change from within So American interests would have been better served.
The United States won a three-year term for one of the council’s 18 open seats beginning in January in a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.
Based in Geneva, the council is considered the most important human rights body in the world. While it has no criminal enforcement or sanctioning power, the Council can conduct investigations that help shape the global image of countries. It can also impact their behavior if they are considered to have a poor rights record.
But there are a wide range of critics of the council who argue that many of its elected members are themselves human rights abusers, pointing to examples such as China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. Critics say the presence of such countries on the council undermines the legitimacy of its work.
Many also object to a permanent item on the council’s agenda relating to rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, which has become the basis for many of its resolutions condemning Israel.
The success of the Biden administration in rejoining the council may now test its stated goal of strengthening America’s human rights advocacy around the world. Many conservative Republicans oppose rejoining, and there is no guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from the council again if a Republican wins the White House back in 2024.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in announcing the Biden administration’s intention to gain a seat on the council last February, acknowledged what he called its challenges, “unacceptable prejudice against Israel and membership rules that restrict countries with tyrannical human rights records to seats.” allow them to be captured. They do not deserve.”
But he added that “reforming the council and advancing its important work is best done with a seat at the table.”
As if to underline the challenges cited by Mr Blinken, several countries with poor or questionable human rights records also won seats on the council on Thursday, including Cameroon, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates and Honduras.
With its return to the Human Rights Council, the Biden administration further reversed its predecessor’s moves toward American isolationism.
President Biden has revived US membership in the World Health Organization, re-entered the Paris climate accord and restored funding to UN agencies that had been cut. Those agencies include the United Nations Population Fund, a major supplier of maternal health and family planning services, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians classified as refugees.
Under the voting system for open seats on the Human Rights Council, the slate of candidates is divided into five geographic regions, and any member of the General Assembly is eligible to run on the Council except those who serve two consecutive terms. Voting is by secret ballot. A simple majority of 97 votes is required to win. In cases where the number of candidates exceeds the number of open seats, the one with the largest number of votes wins.
This year, however, the number of candidates from each region was equal to the number of open seats in that region, meaning no seats were contested. Rights groups outside the United Nations called that part of the problem.
“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election’,” Louis Charbonneau, UN director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement ahead of the vote. “The election of serious rights abusers such as Cameroon, Eritrea and the UAE sends a terrifying signal that the member states of the United Nations are not serious about the Council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”
Other newly elected or re-elected members from the African Group included The Gambia, Benin and Somalia; Qatar, Kazakhstan, India and Malaysia from the Asian group; Argentina and Paraguay from Latin America and the Caribbean group; Luxembourg and Finland from the western group; and Lithuania and Montenegro from the Eastern Europe group.