US Returns to Human Rights Council — Hurry with Organizational Reform

The United States has announced its intention to rejoin the U.N. Human Rights Council, which it left in 2018 under the Trump administration. Given that a party cannot rejoin the council until being without having been elected, the U.S. will first be acting in an observational role.

I would like to welcome the return of the United States. Though Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Human Rights Council “a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus,” he also noted that “when it works well, the Human Rights Council shines a spotlight on countries with the worst human rights records and can serve as an important forum for those fighting injustice and tyranny.” It is of great significance that the U.S. has chosen not merely to criticize from the outside, but to actively seek readmission and reform.

The council must make drastic reforms so that it can address the current situation, in which the self-justifications of undemocratic states run rampant. The council’s duty is the “promotion and protection of human rights” and basic liberties, but the organization as it currently stands cannot be said to be capable of performing that task.

Last year, countries including China, Russia and Cuba were elected to the council. These are the sort of countries that oppress minorities and political parties, and are suspected to have poisoned anti-establishment activists. By cooperating with one another, they were able to become members.

According to the nongovernmental organization U.N. Watch, these undemocratic states account for 60% of the council. They seek to shield themselves from international criticism and to obstruct attempts at investigating or advising them.

This is symbolically exemplified by the resolution China presented in March 2018, “Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights.” Even as it raises the importance of protecting human rights, it also states that acknowledging each nation’s historical and cultural background is essential, with content that overall seems meant to restrain human-rights-based domestic intervention. Thanks to the approval of several nations heavily influenced by China, the provision was adopted. Yet its ideas are completely incompatible with human rights.

Recently, a special session was held regarding the military coup d’etat in Myanmar. However, China and Russia both opposed this session, arguing that the situation was “an internal affair of Myanmar.” Though the resolution demanding the prompt release of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was adopted unanimously, several compromises were forced, such as the omission of the term “coup d’etat.”

It is exactly because of these repeated attempts at abusing state power that the role of the Human Rights Council must be questioned. Blinken said that “when the United States engages constructively with the council, in concert with our allies and friends, positive change is within reach.” Rules to immediately exclude nations that stymie peaceful demonstrations and deny investigations into ethnic persecution should be drafted. It should not be forgotten that Japan, too, is involved and responsible for change.

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