U.S. rejoins Human Rights Council

By Ivy Lewis, Staff Writer

The United States officially rejoined the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) last week, reversing the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the organization in 2018.

The U.S. was approved for a three-year seat on the council after receiving 168 votes from the 193-member general assembly.

The Biden administration stated that the goal of rejoining the HRC is to advance human rights on a global scale, while protecting U.S. domestic interests. 

“The council provides a forum where we can have open discussions about ways we and our partners can improve,” Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said in an announcement following the election.

Blinken criticized the HRC’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, citing this as an area of the council’s policy that the administration hoped to reform.

“(The council) suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention on Israel and the membership of several states with egregious human rights records,” Blinken continued.

Xavier political science professor Dr. Timothy White explained that Biden was continuing a long history of Democratic presidents taking interest in international institutions such as the UN. 

“(Woodrow) Wilson’s advocacy of the League of Nations and FDR’s creation of the UN illustrate liberal beliefs that the U.S. can maximize its interests through such international organizations,” he said. 

The UN General Assembly selects members on the basis of its regional grouping system, meaning the geopolitical regions designated by the UN. The seats on the council are distributed based on these regions, with the intention of ensuring equitable representation.

The council does not have law enforcement powers, but it is permitted to investigate and report potential violations of human rights. 

The HRC also offers recommendations and plans of action for nations engaging in documented human rights abuse.

Critics of the HRC argue that the council is hypocritical by allowing countries with documented human rights abuses to join. Critics also question the timing of the U.S. announcement to rejoin the council.

“At the very moment when the U.S. is being flagged for human rights violations in Afghanistan, it opts to reclaim its position within the global human rights arena,” professor of sustainability and global cultures Dr. Suparna Chatterjee said. 

“Human rights abusers and violators come in all shapes and sizes. So, we must interrogate how human rights discourses have been co-opted by Western liberal democracies as well as other political regimes,” she said.