The United States announced plans on Monday to reengage with the much-maligned United Nations Human Rights Council that former President Donald Trump withdrew from almost three years ago, as the Biden administration reverses another Trump-era move away from multilateral organizations and agreements.
The US charge d’affaires in Geneva, Mark Cassayre, told an organizational meeting of the UN’s main human rights body that the United States will return as an observer. US diplomats say that step comes with an eye toward seeking election as a full member.
“The Biden administration believes in a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights and equality,” Cassayre told an organizational meeting of the council. “Effective use of multilateral tools is an important element of that vision.”
The decision is likely to draw criticism from conservative lawmakers and many in the pro-Israel community, who have derided the council and echoed Trump administration complaints that it was too quick to overlook abuses by autocratic regimes and governments — and even accept them as members.
Cassayre, the top US diplomat in Geneva, said the most effective way to reform and improve the Geneva-based body was “to engage with it in a principled fashion.”
“While recognizing the council’s flaws, we know that this body has the potential to be an important forum for those fighting tyranny and injustice around the world,” he said. “By being present at the table, we seek to ensure it can live up to that potential.”
Trump pulled out of the council in 2018 due to its disproportionate focus on Israel, which has received by far the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country, and because it failed to meet an extensive list of reforms demanded by then-US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Besides the council’s persistent focus on Israel, the Trump administration took issue with the body’s membership, which currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.