The United States on Thursday reclaimed a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration relinquished in 2018 over what it called the body’s hypocrisy and anti-Israel bias.
In striving to rejoin the 47-member council, the Biden administration, which has taken a much more supportive stance towards the United Nations than its predecessor, argued that American interests would be better served if the United Nations States were a member seeking change from within.
The United States won a three-year term for one of 18 open seats on the council, starting in January, in a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.
The council is based in Geneva and is considered the world’s foremost human rights body. While the council has no criminal enforcement or sanctioning powers, the council can conduct investigations that help shape countries’ global image. It can also influence their behavior if they are considered to have a bad track record.
But the council has a wide range of critics who argue that many of its elected members are human rights abusers themselves, citing examples like China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. Critics say the presence of such countries on the council undermines the legitimacy of their work.
Many also object to a permanent item on the council’s agenda on human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, which has become the basis for its numerous resolutions condemning Israel.
The Biden administration’s success in rejoining the council could now be a test of its stated goal of strengthening U.S. advocacy for human rights around the world. Many conservative Republicans oppose return, and there is no guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from the council again should a Republican win the White House in 2024.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who announced the Biden administration’s intention to regain a seat on the council last February, acknowledged what he called the challenges, “including unacceptable bias against Israel and membership rules that would put countries with a horrendous track record.” in the field of human rights to occupy seats. they don’t deserve it.”
But he said that “improving the council and advancing its critical work is best done with a seat at the table.”
As if to underscore 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 steps toward US isolationism.
President Biden has revived US membership in the World Health Organization, rejoined the Paris climate accord and restored funding to UN agencies that had been slashed. Those agencies include the United Nations Population Fund, a leading provider of maternal health and family planning services, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians classified as refugees.
According to the voting system for free seats in the Human Rights Council, lists of candidates are divided into five geographic regions, and every member of the General Assembly is eligible to participate except those who complete two consecutive terms on the council. 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 seats available, the largest voter wins.
This year, however, the number of candidates from each region was equal to the number of seats available 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 at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement ahead of the vote. “The election of serious human rights abusers such as Cameroon, Eritrea and the UAE sends a terrible signal that UN member states are not taking seriously the Council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”
The other newly elected or re-elected members were Gambia, Benin and Somalia from the African group; Qatar, Kazakhstan, India and Malaysia from the Asian group; Argentina and Paraguay from the Latin American and Caribbean group; Luxembourg and Finland from the western group; and Lithuania and Montenegro of the Eastern Europe group.