After exiting under President Trump, U.S. returns to UN’s surreal Human Rights Council

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By John J. Metzler

The United States has been elected to the UN’s Human Rights Council, the controversial Rights assembly the Biden Administration rejoined earlier in the year.

In non-contested elections or should we say selections, Washington won a spot along with seventeen other states ranging from free nations including Finland and Lithuania, to failed states such as Somalia, and serial rights abusers as is Eritrea.

America is back?

The 193 member UN General Assembly in New York held these elections to the 47 member Human Rights Council (HRC) which picked new members representing regional groups; Africa,  Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and West European and Others.

The UN continues to allow some of the world’s worst human rights abusers on its Human Rights Council.

Hillel Neuer Executive Secretary of the watchdog group UN Watch tweeted, that while Elections were designed to weed out the world’s worst rights abusers, “oppressive regimes like China, Cuba, Libya, Russia and Eritrea routinely win election, and the stamp of international legitimacy.”

Given the Council’s past actions, the Trump Administration pulled out of the Geneva-based body in 2018, largely over this very issue of uncompetitive elections and the HRC’s excessive criticism of Israel.

Yet, Washington’s “win” in the Biden era was a pyrrhic political victory at best; we were selected but our vote tally represented an almost insulting innuendo from the membership.  Stated another way Washington’s final vote tally lagged behind serial rights abusers such as Somalia, Cameron and the United Arab Emirates!  Out of 193 members in the UN General Assembly, the USA won 168 votes.  Gambia gained 186, Somalia 171 and only Eritrea garnered fewer with 144.

Following the selection, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated, “The Council provides a forum where we can have open discussions about ways we and our partners can improve.  At the same time, it also suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention on Israel and the membership of several states with egregious human rights records.” Sadly so.

Countries like the West African state of Cameroon have a pitiful human rights record. Moreover, Freedom House, the global human rights monitor, rates both Eritrea and Somalia among the least Free countries in the world.

Newly elected members set to serve three years terms include, Benin, Gambia, Cameron, Somalia, Eritrea, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Lithuania, Montenegro, Paraguay, Argentina, Honduras, Finland, Luxembourg and the United States.

American UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that by being back on the HRC, “Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria, and Yemen.”

She added, “Finally, we will press against the election of countries with egregious human rights records.”

When the new members take their seats in January, just under a third of the entire HRC membership will represent democratic states. Members like Cuba, China, Russia and Pakistan already sit in judgement on the Council.

Facing this grim political calculus, how can Western democratic states hope to tip the Council’s balance away from the entrenched authoritarian states?

Having covered past HRC proceedings in Geneva and viewing the bubble under which the Council operates, it’s almost taken for granted that members operate in an largely unchallenged cloud cuckoo land.  I recall communist China putting on lavish exhibits which verge on political pornography where the persecuted Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang province are presented as happy and dancing peasants all under Beijing’s red banner.  Serious discussions are sidetracked, stifled or shut down.

Thus is Washington’s political pushback effort even worth it?

So, with a disappointing and almost insulting 168 votes, should we proclaim America is Back?

Sort of.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]

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