After Donald Trump slammed the door, the United States returns to the UN Human Rights Council

The United States returned to the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday after an absence used by China to influence that body, which was also accessed by Paraguay and Honduras and in which Argentina renewed its mandate.

In total, 18 countries were candidates to fill as many positions as of January 1. The United States obtained 168 votes and Eritrea, a country accused of human rights violations, 144.

In addition, Argentina, Honduras, Paraguay, Finland, Luxembourg, Benin, Cameroon, Gambia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, India, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Qatar, Lithuania and Montenegro were elected.

In the election, some NGOs accused regional groups of having presented the same number of candidates as there were vacancies – an «electoral farce» for UN Watch – and of failing to stop candidacies from authoritarian countries.

The election of Eritrea once again raised the question of the presence of authoritarian regimes and little respectful of human rights in the highest instance of the UN in charge of watching over them.

«It is not something of now, but the trend is inevitably reinforced,» a European diplomat told AFP.

The government of former President Donald Trump had withdrawn from the body. Photo: AP

The advance of China

The departure of the United States from this institution in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump, who accused the council of hypocrisy and being cruel to Israel, left the field open to China to expand its influence.

The Republican government then argued an alleged «chronic bias» of the international body against Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

Together with partners such as Belarus or Venezuela, in recent years they approved joint declarations supporting Beijing’s action in Hong Kong, Tibet or Xinjiang, or denouncing «human rights violations» in Western countries such as, for example, against the indigenous peoples of Canada.

Some fear that the return of the United States to the council will reinforce this trend of increasing polarization.

«We can imagine that the Chinese and Americans will not give each other gifts and will use the council as an arena in which to expose their rivalries,» said the European diplomat who spoke with AFP.

The leader of the Universal Rights Group think tank in Geneva, Marc Limon, regrets that the United States is «essentially concentrating on China» after his return as an observer to the Human Rights Council this year.

«Many countries are fed up because they do not want to see the multilateral system hostage» to this rivalry, Limon told AFP, calling on Washington to broaden its theme to regain the support of developing countries, now inclined towards China.

The president of China, Ji Xinping: the Human Rights Council, the scene of conflict between Beijing and Washington.  Photo: AP

The president of China, Ji Xinping: the Human Rights Council, the scene of conflict between Beijing and Washington. Photo: AP

The Chinese ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Chen Xu, hopes the United States can «conduct a constructive dialogue and try not to turn human rights into a political instrument.»

«We ourselves are ready to follow this approach which consists of promoting dialogue, opposing politicization and trying to emphasize the needs of developing countries,» he told reporters.

The members of the Council, whose seats are divided into five regional groups, are chosen for three years by an absolute majority in a secret ballot.

Every year one third of the body is renewed.

The ones that come out

Of the eight members from Latin America and the Caribbean, Uruguay and Bahamas will leave the council, followed by Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela, in addition to Argentina to obtain the second term.

Human Rights Watch and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), an NGO in Geneva, had asked countries that grossly violate human rights not to vote.

The presence of these types of countries on the council was one of the reasons put forward by the Trump administration for leaving the institution.

The new head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken, this year stressed the importance of the body to draw attention to some crises, but encouraged «to reflect on how it works.»

Source: AFP