US says returning to “flawed” UN human rights forum


The United States said on Monday it would return as an observer to the UN Human Rights Council, which it quit under the Trump administration, while seeking reforms of the “flawed body”.

The Trump administration withdrew as a member of the 47-member state council in June 2018, accusing the forum of having a “chronic anti-Israel bias”.

The announcement, made by Mark Cassayre, US charge d’affaires at the US mission to the United Nations in Geneva, was followed by a statement issued in Washington by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“The Biden administration has recommitted the United States to a foreign policy centred on democracy, human rights, and equality. Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision, and in that regard the President has instructed the Department of State to re-engage immediately and robustly with the UN Human Rights Council,” Blinken said.

The forum, set up in 2006, has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, which Washington has long wanted removed.

“We recognise 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. 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,” Blinken said.

The other UN Security Council permanent members – Britain, China, France and Russia – now sit on the council, whose members are elected by the UN General Assembly.

Since quitting, the US delegation has attended only reviews to examine the human rights records of all UN member states – not the council’s regular sessions held three times a year. Its main annual session opens on 22 February.

“While recognising the Council’s flaws, we know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world. By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential,” Cassayre said on Monday.