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February 8, 2021 1:50 pm

US Return to ‘Broken’ UN Human Rights Council Met With Skepticism by Human Rights Advocates

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Reuters / Joshua Roberts.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s announcement on Monday that the new administration will return to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as an observer drew sharp criticism from a range of foreign policy observers and human rights activists, who countered that the body’s main function is to legitimize regimes with woeful human rights records.

Blinken said in a statement that while the UNHRC was “flawed” and in need of reform, the move to re-engage was part of President Joe Biden’s commitment “to a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality.”

“When it works well, the UN Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as a beacon for those fighting against injustice and tyranny,” Blinken stated on Twitter. “That’s why the US is back at the table.”

In June 2018, the Trump Administration withdrew the US from the UNHRC, with former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley denouncing it as “a body unworthy of the name.”

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“Unfree countries don’t want the council to be effective — a credible Human Rights Council poses a threat to them and so they oppose it,” Haley explained at the time.

On Monday, Haley criticized Blinken’s announcement, tweeting that she was “sad to see the Biden admin legitimize an organization that has become a farce to human rights advocates around the world.”

The current membership roster of the UNHRC includes several states that are actively involved in suppressing pro-democracy movements domestically, among them China, Russia and Venezuela.

UN Watch — a Geneva-based human rights NGO that monitors the international organization — argued in a statement that the “cost of the US rejoining is that it lends legitimacy to a council where tyrannies and other non-democracies now comprise 60 percent of the membership, including serial abusers of human rights like China, Russia, Cuba, and Pakistan, all of whom have escaped any censure in the form of a council resolution, inquiry or urgent session.”

UN Watch’s director, Hillel Neuer, said that in exchange for re-engaging with the UNHRC, the US “at a minimum must demand serious reform, removing despots from the Council such as Venezuela’s Maduro regime, holding dictators to account for their oppression, and ending the notorious agenda item that targets Israel alone in each session.”

Other foreign policy observers were similarly skeptical.

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