Blinken, in a video message to the council, announced the United States would seek election to a seat at the U.N. 's top human rights body for the 2022 to 2024 term.
He acknowledged that the Geneva-based body was in need of reforms, including its “disproportionate focus” on Israel—the only country whose rights record comes up for scrutiny at every one of its thrice-yearly meetings—as well as its membership.
Countries “with the worst human rights records should not be members of this Council,” Blinken stated.
The Trump administration pulled out from the council in mid-2018 over its excessive focus on Israel, which has received the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country by far.
It also denounced the membership of the council, which includes some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. The 47-nation council currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, and Venezuela—all of which are perpetrators of rights violations. Then-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley at the time called the body “a protector of human rights abuses, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Blinken, in a separate statement, acknowledged challenges at the body, but pointed out that “improving the Council and advancing its critical work is best done with a seat at the table.” The statement, released after the secretary of state’s speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, did not explicitly mention China or its human rights abuses.
Blinken said in the speech that the United States would “call out abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Iran.” He also reiterated the U.S. call on Russia to release opposition figure Alexei Navalny as well as hundreds of others detained during protests.
“We will speak out for universal values when atrocities are committed in Xinjiang or when fundamental freedoms are undermined in Hong Kong,” he referred to the Chinese regime’s detention of more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in the far-western Xinjiang region, and Beijing’s widening crackdown in Hong Kong.
On Monday, the regime’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed the council via video message denying it was committing genocide or repressing Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. He also said the regime has a “people-centered” approach to human rights.
The Biden administration’s decision to re-engage the Human Rights Council drew criticism from Republicans.
Haley, in a tweet on Wednesday, wrote: “The U.S. should not give credibility to the sham U.N. Human Rights Council. A group that covers for the world’s worst human rights violators and spends most of its time attacking Israel.”
Earlier this month, a group of 45 Republican House lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden, requesting he refrain from rejoining the body that has adopted zero resolutions condemning countries including China, Russia, Cuba, and Pakistan between 2006 and 2019.
“The United States’ participation in this body has not led to any meaningful reforms,” they wrote.