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US to rejoin UN rights council, after Trump pullout in 2018

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The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. AFP

US to rejoin UN rights council, after Trump pullout in 2018

The US on February 8 said it would “re-engage” with the UN Human Rights Council, nearly three years after former president Donald Trump’s administration withdrew.

President Joe Biden “has instructed the Department of State to re-engage immediately and robustly with the UN Human Rights Council”, US top diplomat Anthony Blinken said in a statement issued as the council held an organisational meeting in Geneva.

The move marks yet another reversal by Biden of his predecessor’s policies.

Trump’s administration yanked the country out of the 47-member council in June 2018, complaining about its “unrelenting bias” against Israel and “hypocrisy” of allowing rights-abusing nations a seat at the table.

The country cannot automatically regain membership, instead needing to wait for elections towards the end of the year.

The US departure left a void that China and others have been eager to fill at the council, created in 2006.

Blinken said the US would initially be an observer at the council and stressed his country still regarded it as a “flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel”.

But he said the US withdrawal had done nothing to foster change, instead it had “created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage”.

He said: “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.

“It is our view that the best way to improve the council is to engage with it and its members in a principled fashion.”

Diplomats welcomed the announcement, with British ambassador to the UN in Geneva Julian Braithwaite saying the UN as a whole would be much stronger with full engagement.

Before the council’s meeting, US diplomat Mark Cassayre highlighted the rights-focused moves taken by Biden since he came to office on January 20 on racism, immigration, climate change, gender equality and gay rights.

Prior to its withdrawal, the US was seen as a champion within the council for battling a range of rights abuses around the world, and Cassayre hinted the country would return to this role.

He said the US would commit to the “urgent” work of strengthening the council and defending human rights around the globe.

“In the past few months alone, we have seen several emerging human rights challenges that deserve our immediate attention,” he said.

The rights council’s next session will kick off on February 22 and last through March 23. Due to the pandemic, most participation will be virtual.


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