US Set to Return to Controversial UN Human Rights Council

The United States is poised to return to a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, after the former Trump administration withdrew from the controversial body in 2018. 

On Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly will vote for 18 new members to join the 47-member council. The United States is among the candidates that need a simple majority of votes to secure a seat. However, none of the states faces any competition within its regional group, leaving the results mostly a foregone conclusion. 

There are a mix of countries seeking seats, including Argentina, India, Lithuania, Qatar and Somalia. Some candidates are more controversial than others because of their own human rights track records. 

“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election,'” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch. “Electing serious rights abusers like Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates sends a terrible signal that U.N. member states aren’t serious about the council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.” 

Charbonneau urged states not to vote for unqualified candidates. 

Countries that join the council are expected to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” both at home and abroad. 

Imperfect body 

The council has a mixed reputation. Diplomats say it has produced some important and strong reports on war crimes in places like Syria, and spotlights domestic abuses in North Korea, Iran and Myanmar, among others. But it is also frequently criticized for its focus on Israel and the inclusion among its members of several countries with poor rights records of their own, like China, Russia and Pakistan.  

The Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace the dysfunctional U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was disbanded. The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush opted against seeking membership, and the United States did not join until 2009 when the administration of then-President Barack Obama said it sought to improve the council by working from within it. Washington withdrew in 2018 under the Trump administration. 

 


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