The United States is set to return to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, after the former Trump administration withdrew from the controversial body in 2018.
On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly will vote for 18 new members to join the 47-member council. The United States is among the candidates who need a simple majority to secure a seat. However, none of the states faced any competition within their regional grouping, the result being mostly a foregone conclusion.
There are several countries seeking seats, including Argentina, India, Lithuania, Qatar and Somalia. Some candidates are more controversial than others because of their own human rights track record.
“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election’,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch. “The election of serious rights abusers such as Cameroon, Eritrea and the United Arab Emirates sends a terrifying signal that the member states of the United Nations are not serious about the Council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”
Charbonneau urged states not to vote for ineligible candidates.
Countries joining the Council are expected to “maintain the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” both at home and abroad.
The council has a mixed reputation. Diplomats say it has produced some important and robust reports on war crimes in places like Syria, and exposed domestic abuses in North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. But it is also often criticized for its focus on Israel and its inclusion among members of several countries with poor rights records of its own, such as China, Russia and Pakistan.
The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 to replace the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which was dissolved. Former US President George W. Bush’s administration chose not to subscribe, and the United States did not join until 2009 when then-President Barack Obama’s administration said it sought to reform the council by working from within. Washington withdrew in 2018 under the Trump administration.