The United States won a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 because of what it called hypocrisy and anti-Israel prejudice.
Seeking to rejoin the 47-member council, the Biden administration, which has taken a much more supportive stance toward the United Nations than its predecessor, argued that American interests would be better served if the United States were a member that demanded change from within.
The United States won a three-year term for one of the 18 open seats on the council, beginning in January, in a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.
Based in Geneva, the council is considered the most important human rights body in the world. While there is no criminal or sanctioning executive power, the council can undertake investigations that help shape the global image of countries. It can also influence their behavior if they are considered to have poor rights data.
But the council has a wide range of critics who argue that many of its elected members are human rights abusers, citing examples such as China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. The presence of such seats on the council, critics say, underestimates the legitimacy of his work.
Many also oppose a permanent item on the agenda of councils regarding abuses of rights in the Palestinian territories, which has become the basis for its numerous resolutions condemning Israel.
The Biden administration’s success in reuniting the council can now bring proof of its stated purpose of strengthening America’s advocacy for human rights worldwide. Many Conservative Republicans opposed reunification, and there is no guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from the council again if a Republican wins the White House in 2024.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, announcing the Biden administration’s intention last February to regain a seat on the council, received what he called his challenges, including unacceptable prejudices against Israel and membership rules that allow countries with cruel human rights record to occupy places they do not deserve.
But he said improving the council and advancing its critical work is best done with a seat at the table.
How to highlight the challenges cited by Mr. Blinken, several countries with weak or dubious human rights record also won council seats on Thursday, including Cameroon, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates and Honduras.
With its return to the Human Rights Council, the Biden administration further overturned previous moves toward American isolationism.
President Biden has revived U.S. membership in the World Health Organization, re-entered the Paris climate agreement and restored funding for UN agencies that had been cut. Those agencies include the United Nations Population Fund, a leading provider of maternal health and family planning services, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians classified as refugees.
Under the open voting system in the Human Rights Council, candidate lists are divided into five geographical regions and each member of the General Assembly has the right to run, except for those who serve two consecutive terms on the council. Voting is by secret ballot. A simple majority of 97 votes is required to win. In cases where the number of candidates exceeds the number of vacancies, the largest voter wins.
This year, however, the number of candidates from each region was equal to the number of open seats in those regions, meaning that none of the seats was contested. Rights groups outside the United Nations called that part of the problem.
Lack of competition in these years the voting of the Human Rights Council makes a joke with the word election, Louis Charbonneau, said the UN director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement before the vote. The election of serious human rights abusers such as Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates sends a terrible signal that UN member states are not serious about the basic mission of councils to protect human rights.
Other newly elected or re-elected members included the Gambia, Benin, and Somalia from the African group; Qatar, Kazakhstan, India and Malaysia from the Asian group; Argentina and Paraguay from the Latin American and Caribbean group; Luxembourg and Finland from the western group; and Lithuania and Montenegro from the Eastern European group.
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