Asserting that the Biden administration is placing democracy and human rights at the center of its foreign policy, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced on Wednesday that the US will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term, almost three years after it quit the UN's top rights body.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the UN's Human Rights Council in June 2018, describing it as a "hypocritical and self-serving organisation" that displayed "unending hostility towards Israel".
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is a 47-member inter-governmental body within the UN system tasked with upholding human rights.
On Wednesday, the top American diplomat, in his virtual address to the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council said he sought the support of all UN member states America's bid to return to a seat in the inter-governmental body.
"The United States is placing democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy, because they are essential for peace and stability. This commitment is firm and grounded in our own experience as a democracy imperfect and often falling short of our own ideals, but striving always for a more inclusive, respectful, and free country, Blinken said in him first address to the UNHRC.
It's for that reason that I'm pleased to announce the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term. We humbly ask for the support of all UN Member States in our bid to return to a seat in this body, Blinken said.
The move will reverse another key policy decision of the previous Trump administration.
Blinken acknowledged that the United States does not claim to be perfect but it strives every day to improve, to hold itself accountable, to become a more perfect union. We confront our own challenges openly, transparently, for the entire world to see. Sometimes it's painful, sometimes it's ugly, but we deal with our problems openly and fully, he asserted.
There is no moral equivalence between the actions of the US, which are subject to robust, impartial, and transparent accountability mechanisms and those of authoritarian regimes, which violate and abuse human rights with impunity, he noted.
Recognising that any pledge to fight for human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight for human rights at home, Blinken said that people of colour in the United States deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice.
In his first week in office, President Joe Biden took action to tackle the root causes of these inequities, including in housing, prison reform, improving the conditions of indigenous peoples, and fighting discrimination against Asian Americans. We must do more to advance racial justice globally. We are eager to find a more effective and inclusive way to put fighting racism at the top of the global human rights agenda, he said.
Blinken said the US will focus on ensuring that the Council membership reflects high standards for upholding human rights. Those with the worst human rights records should not be members of the Council.
We must work together to improve the work and membership of the Council so it can do even more to advance the rights of people around the world, he said.
Together, we must push back against blatant attempts to subvert the values upon which the United Nations is founded including that each of us as individuals are endowed with human rights and that states are obliged to protect those fundamental rights.
"Those who hide under the mantle of promoting economic development while seeking to undermine human rights will be held to account, including for their own human rights violations, Blinken said.
Blinken said the US will continue to call out abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Iran.
We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Alexei Navalny, as well as hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained for exercising their rights, he said.
The US will speak out for universal values when atrocities are committed in Xinjiang or when fundamental freedoms are undermined in Hong Kong.And we are alarmed by the backsliding of democracy in Burma, which is why our first action upon re-engaging the Council was on this very crisis, he said.
We encourage the Council to support resolutions at this session addressing issues of concern around the world, including ongoing human rights violations in Syria and North Korea, the lack of accountability for past atrocities in Sri Lanka, and the need for further investigation into the situation in South Sudan, Blinken said.
Asserting that the US is fully committed to the universal protection and promotion of human rights, he said that the US looks forward to working collaboratively with friends and partners in this body and in the NGO community from all regions, to ensure that the Council lives up to its mandate and effectively contributes to human rights around the world.
Trump's withdrawal from the council formed part of what he called his America First' policy.
He also pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO, a UN educational and cultural body based in France.
Since taking office last month, President Biden has rejoined both the Paris accord and the WHO.