WASHINGTON – The orienting principle behind the Biden administration’s decision to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council is that “the United States can be a constructive force and can help shape the course of world events when we’re present; when we’re at the table,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.
When the US plays a constructive role in the council, “positive change is possible,” he said at a press briefing.
“One of those reforms that is necessary [is] the council’s disproportionate focus on Israel and ensuring countries with strong human-rights records serve on the council,” Price said.
“We firmly believe that states with the worst human-rights records don’t belong on the Human Rights Council,” he said. “On both of these elements, it is our view that the best way for us to reform them is to engage with its members in a principled fashion, and that’s what we intend to do in the first instance as an observer.”
Regarding the International Criminal Court’s decision to launch an investigation into Israel’s actions in Gaza, Price said the US made it clear in 2015, when the Palestinian Authority wanted to join the Rome Statute, that it does not believe the Palestinians qualify to be a sovereign state “and, therefore, are not qualified to obtain membership as a state or to participate as a state in international organizations, entities or conferences, including the ICC.”
“We’ll continue to uphold President [Joe] Biden’s strong commitment to Israel and its security, including opposing actions that seek to target Israel unfairly,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is reestablishing ties with the UNHRC three years after former president Donald Trump exited the contentious body over its anti-Israel bias.
“The United States will engage with the council as an observer,” he said in a statement.
The decision is part of a larger policy stance by Biden to engage with international institutions, which is diametrically opposite Trump’s position of shunning such bodies.
When the Trump administration left the UNHRC, it had been one of 47 member states that held three-year terms on the council, giving it voting power. In 2018, it gave up its seat, severed all ties and refused to publicly engage in meetings.
The US would be active in the council, but in an observer capacity and not as a member state, Blinken said.
The US “will have the opportunity to speak in the council, participate in negotiations and partner with others to introduce resolutions,” he said.
Technically, the US can only regain its seat when the UN General Assembly holds annual elections, typically in the fall.