Biden Administration Strikes to Rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will join the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday, nearly three years after President Donald J. Trump withdrew the United States from the council, a senior State Department official said on Sunday.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is due to announce that the United States will “reconnect” with the council as an observer, the official said. “We want to do this knowing that the most effective way to reform and improve the Council is to deal with it in principle.”

Mr Trump withdrew from the Council, the world’s most important human rights organization, in 2018 because he and his allies called it unfair crackdown on Israel. The departure made the United States the first country to voluntarily leave.

President Biden pledged during the presidential campaign to rejoin the council and help with the overhaul. However, this is likely to spark a political backlash: Mr Trump’s allies have warned that re-joining would effectively allow the panel to continue to ignore human rights abuses by council members such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.

Nikki R. Haley, who was the American ambassador to the United Nations when Mr. Trump withdrew from the council, has called it a “dead end of political bias” and warned against re-entry.

“If Biden rejoins the council, which includes dictatorial regimes and some of the world’s worst human rights abusers,” Ms. Haley wrote on Twitter last month, “it will fly in the face of our struggle for human rights.”

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Apr. 5, 2021, 9:20 p.m. ET

The United States will return to the Council as a non-voting observer, and full membership will be assessed later this year. The move, previously reported on by The Associated Press, comes at a time when nations facing widespread criticism of human rights violations have sought to influence how the Council assesses wrongdoing. China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela are all members.

At the same time, critics of the council have long accused him of dysfunction, turning a blind eye to abuse by some members while punishing others. Last week, 40 Republicans from the House of Representatives signed a letter asking Mr Biden to reconsider re-entry. He said the council was targeting Israel “disproportionately” compared to other members.

“Israel is the only country permanently on the council’s agenda,” the letter said. “Last year the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council passed five resolutions condemning Israel, and only one each against Iran, Syria and North Korea.”

There are signs that the Council is taking steps to change itself. In January, Fiji, a nation with a proven track record of human rights support, won the election for president, a position that has a significant impact on the group’s priorities.

In recent years, Fiji has supported investigations into reported abuses in Venezuela, Belarus, Syria and Yemen, while resistance from other members, including China.

The Biden administration is phrasing its decision as a way to accelerate these changes and rejoin a global community that Mr. Trump largely avoided during his tenure. In his first few weeks, Mr. Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, two frequent goals of the former president.

“We know the Council has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world,” the State Department official said in a statement. “By being present at the table, we’re trying to reform it and make sure it lives up to that potential.”

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