US seeks to return to UN human rights body

Published February 24, 2021
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated US calls for an end to the council’s regular agenda item, known as Item 7, that focuses on Israel and the Palestinian territories. — AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated US calls for an end to the council’s regular agenda item, known as Item 7, that focuses on Israel and the Palestinian territories. — AFP

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the United States will vie for a seat at the UN’s human rights body, which would cement a US return to the Geneva-based body that was shunned by the Trump administration.

The top US diplomat said the US would seek a three-year term starting next year at the Human Rights Council, and acknowledged it needed reform, particularly to end its “disproportionate” focus on Israel — the only country whose rights record comes up for scrutiny at every one of its thrice-yearly meetings.

In a video message, Blinken raised concerns about countries including Myanmar, which has faced international criticism over a military coup last month, China over its Xinjiang region, and Russia after the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and demonstrators during protests against President Vladimir Putin’s government.

“The United States is placing democracy and human rights at the centre of our foreign policy because they’re essential for peace and stability,” Blinken said, adding that, “the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022 to 2024 term.”

The UN General Assembly makes the final choice in a vote that generally takes place in October every year to fill vacant seats at the 47-member-state council. The US, which currently has “observer status,” will seek one of three full-member seats left vacant when the current terms of Austria, Denmark and Italy — from the “western Europe and other states group” — expire at the end of this year.

In mid-2018, then President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the council over its excessive focus on Israel, which has received the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country by far, and because it failed to meet an extensive list of reforms demanded by Nikki Haley, the then-US ambassador to the UN.

The Trump administration also took issue with the body’s membership, which currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.

Echoing such concerns, Blinken said countries “with the worst human rights record should not be members of this council”. He also repeated US calls for an end to the council’s regular agenda item, known as Item 7, that focuses on Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He added that Washington would “continue to call out abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iran” and reiterated US calls for the Russian government to “immediately and unconditionally release” Alexei Navalny and other critics of President Vladimir Putin who have been “wrongly detained”.

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