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US seeks to rejoin UN Human Rights Council

February 8, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce on Monday that the United States will return as an observer. The US pulled out of the Geneva-based body under the previous adminstration over its alleged anti-Israel bias.

US President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy at the State Department in Washington, DC
Biden is seeking to reverse Trump's 'America first' policiesImage: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The United States will announce this week that it plans to rejoin the UN’s Human Rights Council, reversing another key policy of the previous Trump administration.

The former president pulled out of the Geneva-based body over what he saw as its bias against the Israeli government.

Members also include China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.

US seeks to regain influence

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, will announce the change on MondayImage: Tom Brenner/REUTERS

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will announce on Monday that the United States will return as an observer, with a view to seeking election as a full member.

The Associated Press reported that the Biden administration intends to seek one of three full member seats — currently held by Austria, Denmark and Italy — from the "Western Europe and other states group" that will be up for grabs later this year.

“We know that the Council has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world,”  a US State Department official said.

“By being present at the table, we seek to reform it and ensure it can live up to that potential,” the official added.

How the UN Human Rights Council works

The 193-member UN General Assembly will elect new members to the council later this year. 

Members are elected for three years and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms. 

Candidates are elected by secret ballot in geographical groups to ensure even representation.

The late Kofi Annan undertook a series of major reforms of the United Nations during his two terms as secretary general. One of the major changes was the creation of the Human Rights Council.

It replaced the now defunct UN Human Rights Commission, which had been widely criticised as politicised and ineffective.

Each candidate was required to demonstrate a good record on human rights. Each elected member can, in theory,be expelled for transgressions.

Biden reverses Trump's America First policies

Former president Donald Trump after he have his speech to contest the US election results.
Ex-US President Trump pulled the country out of many multilateral globals accordsImage: Jim Bourg/REUTERS

Ex-US President Trump’s withdrawalfrom the Human Rights Council formed part of what he called his ‘America First’ policy.

He also pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Health Organization and UNESCO, a UN educational and cultural body based in France.

Pompeo: 'UN Human Rights Council has become exercise in shameless hypocrisy'

Since taking office last month, President Joe Biden has rejoined both the Paris accord and the WHO and has signaled interest in returning to the Iran deal as well as UNESCO.

jf/aw (AP, Reuters)