The Biden administration is rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the U.N. agency over its profound anti-Israel bias.
“The United States will engage with the Council as an observer,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday, and as such “will have the opportunity to speak in the Council, participate in negotiations, and partner with others to introduce resolutions.”
The U.S., which severed all connections to the UNHRC, will seek full membership during election time at the U.N. General Assembly.
Trump’s then U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley called the UNHRC the “bully pulpit for human rights violators.”
Israel has received the largest number of resolutions against it than any other country by a wide margin. China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela are among the countries that Haley said “make a mockery of the Human Rights Council.”
During its attempts to reform the council the U.S. tried unsuccessfully get rid of Agenda Item 7, which mandates alleged Israeli human rights abuses are discussed at each season, and is the only measure of its kind. Haley observed:
No other country – not Iran, not Syria, not North Korea – has an agenda item devoted solely to it. Agenda Item 7 is not directed at anything Israel does. It is directed at the very existence of Israel. It is a blazing red siren signaling the Human Rights Council’s political corruption and moral bankruptcy.
Prior to leaving the council, the U.S. had engaged in a yearlong diplomatic campaign with more than 125 member states to discuss reforms, Haley said. “In the end, the United States couldn’t convince enough countries to stand up and declare the Human Rights Council was no longer worthy of its name,” she said.
The “most obvious reason is that authoritarian regimes are happy with the status quo.”
Blinken on Monday said: “It is our view that the best way to improve the Council is to engage with it and its members in a principled fashion.”
“We strongly believe that when the U.S. engages constructively with the Council, in concert with our allies and friends positive change is within reach,” 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,” Blinken said.
“However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage,” he added.
Trump’s former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman condemned the move.
“We’ll here’s a terrible policy: rejoining the UNHRC,” Friedman said.
“Who is leading the U.N.’s commission on human rights? China, which places its undesirables in concentration camps, Russia that jails its dissidents, and Cuba! Who is the permanent target? Israel. Donald Trump and [former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.] Nikki Haley got it exactly right by withdrawing!”
Blinken said the UNHRC can 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.”
“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.