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US officially joins controversial UN Human Rights Council

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The United States was elected Thursday in an uncontested ballot of member countries by the United Nations General Assembly. President Joe Biden had said he would return the United States to the Geneva-based organization. Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates also joined the Human Rights Council on Thursday despite concerns over their own national issues expressed by human rights organizations.

The United States received 168 votes, a slight drop from what other countries received for three-year terms.

The United Nations Human Rights Council describes itself as “an intergovernmental body within the United Nations system charged with strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights in the world, dealing with situations of human rights violations. human rights and to make recommendations thereon “.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement celebrating the US return to the Council that initial US efforts in the Council would focus on Afghanistan , Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen. She said the United States’ goals will be to “stand with human rights defenders and speak out against human rights violations and abuses.”

“More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and we will oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, as well as violence and discrimination against members of minority groups,” including LGBTQI + people and people with disabilities, ”she continued, adding that the United States“ will lobby against the election of countries with clear human rights records and encourage those who are committed to promote and protect human rights both in their own country and abroad to apply for membership ”.

Notably, Thomas-Greenfield said the United States “will oppose the Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel, which includes the only standing item on the Council’s agenda targeting a single country.”

Then-US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused the council of bias against Israel and failing to hold human rights abusers accountable when the US left the panel in 2018 .

“For too long,” Haley said in 2018, “the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political prejudice.”

“Perpetrators of human rights violations continue to serve on and be elected to the council,” she said. “The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape its scrutiny, and the Council continues to politicize scapegoats from countries with positive human rights records in an effort to distract from aggressors within its ranks .

Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States would re-engage with the council in February.

The council has 47 member states, and current members include countries that have been accused of serious human rights violations such as China, Russia and Venezuela.

In a statement released Thursday, Blinken acknowledged the readmission of the United States to the group and acknowledged that the council “suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention to Israel and the membership of several states with blatant human rights records. humans ”.

“Together, we must repel attempts to subvert the ideals on which the Human Rights Council was founded, including that every person is endowed with human rights and that states are obliged to protect these rights,” Blinken added. .

The council has long been criticized for including countries with tarnished human rights protection records on their own territory. Ahead of Thursday’s vote at the UN, non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch warned that a non-competitive election “virtually guarantees seats to candidate countries with dismal rights records,” calling on UN member countries to abstain from voting for Cameroon, Eritrea, the United States Emirates in particular among others.

And the American Civil Liberties Union has urged the Biden administration to prioritize human rights in domestic politics after the United States is re-elected to the council.

“President Biden, during his presidential campaign, pledged to restore relations with international partners and to center human rights at home and abroad under his administration and to lead by example,” he said. ACLU press release. “However, despite the election to the council, the United States’ human rights record remains very problematic, not least because the country has yet to ratify or fully implement key international human rights treaties. human rights and has not implemented recommendations made by regional and global human rights organizations. ”

The United States’ re-election to the Human Rights Council is the latest effort to restore America’s position on the world stage through involvement in multilateral organizations and treaties rejected by the Trump administration. Biden has called off the United States’ departure from the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accords.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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