Feb. 8 (UPI) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the United States will re-engage with the United Nations Human Rights Council as an observer, more than two years after withdrawal by the Trump administration.
Blinken said President Joe Biden wants to rejoin the council because of his faith in using multilateral tools to better foreign policy.
“The Biden administration has recommitted the United States to a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality,” Blinken said in a statement.
“The president has instructed the Department of State to re-engage immediately and robustly with the U.N. Human Rights Council.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018, accusing the Human Rights Council of bias against Israel and saying it allowed human rights abusing members like China and Venezuela to join the global 47-member body.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, said at the time the HRC had become a “protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
As an observer, the United States will be able to give opinions on matters before the council and introduce resolutions by working with allies, the secretary of state said. It will not, however, have voting power.
The council was formed in 2006, but the United States under President George W. Bush did not seek membership out of similar concerns about allowing nations with track records of abuse to join. President Barack Obama joined the HRC at the start of his first term and the United States remained a member until Trump withdrew.
Blinken on Monday acknowledged that there are challenges with the council, but cited that as a reason for the U.S. return.
“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 U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”
Blinken said the council functions as a promoter of fundamental liberties worldwide, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly and rights of women, girls, LGBTQ persons and other marginalized communities.
“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 added.
“In the immediate term, the United States will engage with the council as an observer, and in that capacity will have the opportunity to speak in the council, participate in negotiations, and partner with others to introduce resolutions.”
The Biden administration will seek to become a full member, once again, when the HRC votes later this year to fill its three member seats in the “Western Europe and other states” group, to which the United States would belong.