NEWARK, Delaware — In February 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the United States plan to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This announcement comes almost three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States’ membership from the council due to its focus on Israel. Former President Trump also removed the U.S. from the UNHRC because of members such as China, Cuba and Venezuela, which have been accused of human rights abuses.
The United State’s Involvement
The Biden administration noted that the U.S. will have a nonvoting, observer status through the end of 2021. It hopes to acquire one of three member seats that Austria, Denmark and Italy currently hold. The United States will remain active in the council by participating in negotiations, speaking in the council and partnering with others to introduce resolutions, according to Blinken. By rejoining, Blinken noted in his statement that positive change is within reach if the governments continue working together.
Rejoining the UNHRC also means the United States will be able to weigh in on issues dealing with human rights that have only gotten worse due to the pandemic. With the potential acceptance back into the council, the United States will help get control of human rights abuses that the UNHRC has been struggling to stop.
UNHRC’s Past with Israeli Discrimination
The UNHRC focused mostly on Israel in the past, receiving the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country. This drew much criticism from conservative lawmakers. In fact, this was one of the reasons former President Trump withdrew from the council.
“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,” Blinken said in his statement. “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.”
One of the UNHRC’s mandates reads that “alleged Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinians [are]held at each session under Agenda Item 7”. However, “human rights abuses of all other countries are dealt with under Agenda Item 4.” Future meetings will include agendas such as these. Israel itself has never had a seat in the UNHRC but continued to engage in it even when the United States withdrew.
How the UNHRC Can Be Effective
Blinken believes that the United Nations Human Rights Council can ultimately be effective when it “shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny.” It also could promote such freedoms as speech, assembly, worship, gender and transgender rights. The Biden administration strongly believes that the United States will aim to use its power for good. “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,” Blinken said.
This is just one of the few policies that the Biden administration is reversing from former President Trump’s time in office. Since taking office, President Joe Biden has rejoined both the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization. He has shown interest in returning to the Iran nuclear deal and UNESCO. By re-engaging with the UNHR, the United States is hoping to rebuild relationships with other nations while strengthening the power of the country on a more global scale.
– Jai Phillips