US seeking a return to UN rights council: Blinken

The US said earlier this month that it would re-engage with the 47-member council after Trump's administration pulled out in June 2018.
The US said earlier this month that it would re-engage with the 47-member council after Trump's administration pulled out in June 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States is seeking election to the UN Human Rights Council, three years after former president Donald Trump's administration withdrew, the US top diplomat told the rights body on Wednesday (Feb 24).

"I'm pleased to announce the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council in a video message.

"We humbly ask for the support of all UN member states in our bid to return to a seat in this body."

The US announced earlier this month that it would re-engage with the 47-member council after Mr Trump's administration pulled the country out in June 2018.

He had complained about its "unrelenting bias" against Israel and the "hypocrisy" of allowing rights-abusing nations a seat at the table.

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

While Washington has vowed to begin active participation in the council's activities immediately, it could not automatically regain the membership it walked away from three years ago.

Elections for the next term will be held towards the end of this year.

"The United States is placing democracy and human rights at the centre of our foreign policy, because they are essential for peace and stability," Mr Blinken told the council's main annual session, which this year is being held mainly virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This commitment is firm and grounded in our own experience as a democracy, imperfect and often falling short of our own ideals, but striving always for a more inclusive, respectful, and free country," he said.

But while the US under new President Joe Biden is eager to return to the fold of the council, Mr Blinken stressed that the country still agrees with some of the criticisms lobbed by the previous administration.

"Institutions are not perfect," he said.

"As the United States re-engages, we urge the Human Rights Council to look at how it conducts its business. That includes its disproportionate focus on Israel," he said.

"In addition, we will focus on ensuring that the council membership reflects high standards for upholding human rights," he added.

The US has long complained that prominent rights abusers are given seats on the council.

Currently the membership includes China, Russia and Venezuela, along with Cuba, Cameroon, Eritrea and the Philippines.

"Those with the worst human rights records should not be members of this council," Mr Blinken said.

"We must work together to improve the work and membership of the council so it can do even more to advance the rights of people around the world."