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UN Chief Guterres welcomes US decision to re-engage with Human Rights Council

PTI United Nations | Updated on February 09, 2021

Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform...however, our withdrawal...did nothing to encourage... change...countries with authoritarian agendas have used (it to) their advantage: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken

UN Secretary General António Guterres has welcomed the decision of the United States to re-engage with the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying the world organisation looks forward to hearing Washington’s crucial voice across the Council’s urgent work.

“The Human Rights Council is the world’s leading forum for addressing the full range of human rights challenges. The Council’s mechanisms and special procedures are vital tools for ensuring action and accountability,” a statement issued by the UN Chief’s spokesperson said on Monday.

Also read: Looking forward to ‘an active, positive engagement with the UN admin’, says UN

“The United Nations looks forward to hearing the crucial voice of the United States across the Council’s urgent work,” the statement said. Under the Trump administration, the US had withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council, condemning the “hypocrisy” of its members and its alleged “unrelenting bias” against Israel.

“As Secretary Blinken said, effective use of multilateral tools is an important part of the Biden administration’s recommitment to a US foreign policy centreed on democracy, human rights, and equality,” the US Mission to the UN said in a statement on Monday, adding that the “best way” to realise this commitment is through “our continued engagement with allies, partners, non-governmental organisations, civil society, and multilateral organisations, including within the UN system.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden has instructed the Department of State to reengage “immediately and robustly” with the UN Human Rights Council.

“We recognise that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel. However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage,” Blinken said.

The US Mission to the UN added that Washington recognises the UN Human Rights Council has its flaws, “but we also believe it can help promote fundamental freedoms around the world.

“The only way we can ensure the Human Rights Council fulfils this important mandate is by being at the table as an observer and working with our partners and allies in a principled fashion to make it better.” The Mission added that through Washington’s leadership on the UN Security Council and by reengaging with the Human Rights Council, “the United States will continue to fight for global peace and security, and to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” Blinken said in the immediate term, the United States will engage with the Council as an observer, and in that capacity will have the “opportunity to speak in the Council, participate in negotiations, and partner with others to introduce resolutions.

“It is our view that the best way to improve the Council is to engage with it and its members in a principled fashion. We strongly believe that when the United States engages constructively with the Council, in concert with our allies and friends, positive change is within reach.” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that the Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.

“Worse than that, the Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy – with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself,” he had said as the US quit the Council. Former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had said the Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.

She said she had made it clear to the Human Rights Council that the US will remain a part of it if essential reforms were achieved, reforms that were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights. “Human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council. The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny, and the council continues politicising and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks,” she had said. In remarks at the Human Rights Council Organisational Meeting in Geneva, US Chargé d’Affaires Mark Cassayre said the Biden administration “believes in a foreign policy centreed on democracy, human rights, and equality…Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision.” Cassayre added that “while recognising the Council’s flaws, we know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world.

“By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential.”

The Human Rights Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in March 2006. The Council is made of 47 Member States, which are elected by the majority of members of the General Assembly of the United Nations through direct and secret ballot.

Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

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Published on February 09, 2021
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