The Biden administration has announced plans to reengage with the United Nations Human Rights Council after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the body in 2018.
Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS will rejoin UN Human Rights Council: report Iran foreign minister: Restoring nuclear deal is responsibility of US US ending Trump asylum deals with three Central American nations MORE in a statement on Monday described the council as a mechanism to “promote fundamental freedoms around the globe.” He acknowledged that the body is “flawed” and in need of reform but said the decision by the previous administration to withdraw from it in June 2018 “created a vacuum of U.S. leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”
“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.”
“The Council can help to promote fundamental freedoms around the globe, including freedoms of expression, association and assembly, and religion or belief as well as the fundamental rights of women, girls, LGBTQI+ persons, and other marginalized communities,” Blinken continued. “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.”
The U.S. is rejoining the council as an observer, allowing officials to engage in negotiations and speak to its members, Blinken said. The Associated Press reported that he Biden administration is likely to pursue full membership at a later point.
The decision is expected to draw pushback from Republicans.
The Trump administration left the U.N. body in 2018, accusing it of failing to meet demands for reforms and exhibiting “chronic bias against Israel.”
“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments,” then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyUS will rejoin UN Human Rights Council: report 5 lawyers leave Trump impeachment team ahead of trial: reports RNC chair says GOP will be neutral in 2024 presidential primary MORE said at the time. “On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”
The 47-member council includes Venezuela, China, Russia, as well as other nations that have been accused of committing a number of human rights abuses.
The 2018 decision was among a broader retreat by the Trump administration from multilateral organizations and pacts. President Biden has moved to reverse some of the previous administration’s other decisions, such as by recommitting to the World Health Organization (WHO) and rejoining the Paris climate accord.
The U.N. General Assembly created the council 2006 to replace the Commission on Human Rights. At the time the George W. Bush administration voted against its creation and did not elect to join the body. The Obama administration moved to join it in 2009.