Biden wants US back on UN Human Rights Council

The Geneva-based body is criticised for going easy on rights abusers, but the Biden administration says it can still do good

US President Joe Biden holds a virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2021. / AFP / SAUL LOEB
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The US on Wednesday said it will seek to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It is the latest indication of the Biden administration’s bid to play a bigger role in world affairs.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington seeks a council seat for the 2022-2024 term.

The US move marked US President Joe Biden’s latest departure from the previous Trump administration, which exited the 47-nation rights council in a series of go-it-alone “America first” policies.

“Promoting respect for human rights is not something we can do alone, but is best accomplished working with our allies and partners across the globe,” Mr Blinken said.

“From investigations into abuses in Syria and North Korea to promoting the human rights for women and LGBTQI persons and other minorities, and combatting racism and religious persecution, the Human Rights Council must support those fighting against injustice and tyranny.”

Still, Mr Blinken acknowledged the flaws in the body, which has been criticised for giving seats to serial rights abusers such as Russia, China and Venezuela, and of spending too much time censuring Israel.

“We acknowledge challenges at the council as well, including unacceptable bias against Israel and membership rules that allow countries with atrocious human rights records to occupy seats they do not merit,” Mr Blinken said.

“However, improving the council and advancing its critical work is best done with a seat at the table.”

The elections for the three-year membership are set to take place at the UN General Assembly, an annual diplomatic gathering in September that this year could be upended by the pandemic.

The Biden administration extended support to the UN and other global bodies that were rebuffed by the preceding administration.

It reversed other Trump-era decisions, including  the move to leave the World Health Organisation, and reaffirmed its support of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Mr Biden’s pick for US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will be officially sworn into her post on Wednesday after being confirmed by a majority of votes in the US Senate.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield pledged to restore US diplomacy and multilateralism at the UN.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric praised her “effectiveness and dedication” and said diplomats were “looking forward” to working with the seasoned diplomat.