The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday elected the United States to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, more than three years after the Trump administration abandoned the 47-member body over chronic prejudice against Israel and a lack of reform.
The United States, which was unopposed, received 168 votes in a secret ballot by the 193-member General Assembly. It begins a three-year term on January 1 – pitting Washington against Beijing and Moscow, which started the council’s terms this year.
US President Joe Biden vowed in January that human rights would be central to his foreign policy and his administration does not shy away from criticizing China on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan and ousting Russia.
But a review of the Biden administration’s record so far by Reuters showed that concerns over human rights in other countries had at times been pushed in favor of national security priorities and engagement with foreign powers.
“The United States will have an opportunity to demonstrate how serious the Biden administration is about making human rights central to its domestic and foreign policies,” said Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau. “With so many missteps so far, he must use his time on the council to promote human rights among friends and foes.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations in New York Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington would initially focus on “what we can achieve in situations of dire need such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen”.
“Our goals are clear: stand with human rights defenders and speak out against human rights violations and abuses,” she said in a statement, adding that the United States will also “resist the council’s inconsistent focus on Israel.”
US Senator Jim Rish, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the decision by Biden, a Democrat, to join the “flawed body”, citing the body’s focus on Israel.
“The United States must not give its legitimacy to a body that includes perpetrators of human rights abuses such as China, Venezuela and Cuba,” he said in a statement.
Human Rights Council candidates are chosen across geographic groups to ensure equal representation. There was no competitive race on Thursday to elect 13 new members and re-elect five members. Members cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
The General Assembly also elected Kazakhstan, Gambia, Benin, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Paraguay, Honduras, Luxembourg, Finland, Montenegro and Lithuania, and on Thursday re-elected Cameroon, Eritrea, Somalia, India and Argentina.
The United States received the second fewest votes, surpassing only Eritrea, which received 144 votes.
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