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Biden administration to rejoin U.N. Human Rights Council in another reversal of Trump

The action is one of several undoing the Trump administration moves to pull the U.S. out of international agreements and organizations.
Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department on Feb. 4, 2021.Evan Vucci / AP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that the U.S. is rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council, reversing yet another of the Trump administration's moves to exit multilateral organizations and pacts.

President Joe Biden instructed the State Department "to re-engage immediately and robustly" with the body as part of his administration's commitment to pursuing a foreign policy centered on democracy, human rights, and equality with the use of multilateral tools, Blinken said in a statement.

Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the often-criticized international body in 2018 — a move that Blinken said "did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of U.S. leadership."

“When it works well, the @UN Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as a beacon for those fighting against injustice and tyranny,” Blinken also said in a post on Twitter, adding, “That’s why the U.S. is back at the table.”

Blinken added that the council “is flawed and needs reform, but walking away won’t fix it.”

“The best way to improve the Council, so it can achieve its potential, is through robust and principled U.S. leadership,” he added.

In the immediate term, the U.S. would engage as an observer, he said in his statement, adding, "We strongly believe that when the United States engages constructively with the council, in concert with our allies and friends, positive change is within reach."

In June 2018, Trump’s ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, announced the U.S. was withdrawing from the council, citing "chronic bias against Israel.” The move made good on the administration's repeated threats to leave the 47-member body, which Haley slammed as "hypocritical and self-serving." Israel has received by far the largest number of critical council resolutions against any country.

The Trump administration and other critics also said the council was quick to overlook abuses by autocratic regimes and governments — and even accept them as members. The body’s membership currently includes China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia and Venezuela, all of which have been accused of human rights abuses.

The announcement came a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents.

The Biden administration's action is one of several so far to undo Trump's moves to pull the U.S. out of international agreements and organizations. Since taking office last month, Biden has rejoined both the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization — both of which Trump exited.

However, previous administrations had also expressed concerns about the U.N. Human Rights Council — often questioning the body's willingness to have notorious human rights abusers as members. Democratic presidents have tended to want a seat at the table while Republicans have recoiled at its criticism of Israel.