The U.S. Should Seize the Opportunity to Reform the UN Human Rights Council

October 26, 2021 | Richard Goldberg and Orde Kittrie
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In 2018, Washington withdrew from the United Nations Human Right Council (UNHRC), where representatives of the world’s most brutal dictatorships join with those of democracies to condemn Israel. The Biden administration obtained a seat for America on the council earlier this month, and has argued that the U.S. will be able to do more to correct the body’s flaws from within than by boycotting it. Richard Goldberg and Orde Kittrie urge the White House to make good on its commitments:

Since the council’s creation, it has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than every other country in the world combined. In contrast, the council has adopted zero resolutions on the gross human-rights abuses in China, Cuba, and Russia. In addition, Israel is the only country to which the council dedicates a standing agenda item.

The council currently is preparing its most insidious assault on Israel to date: . . . a new commission of inquiry designed to produce a report falsely accusing Israel of committing apartheid. . . . The commission’s objectives are clear: label Israel as committing apartheid; leverage the commission’s reporting to support the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS), and pressure the International Criminal Court to expand its illegitimate investigation of Israel.

The UNHRC’s fatal flaws stretch beyond its bias against Israel, of course. The council’s membership is dominated by countries that violate human rights, including China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Russia, and Venezuela. The UNHRC’s disproportionate focus on Israel seems designed to distract attention from the gross and systemic abuses committed by the council’s own member states, which are rarely if ever condemned by the council.

In a statement issued moments after the UNHRC election results were announced, Secretary of State Antony Blinken put anti-Israel bias at the top of the Biden administration’s reform agenda. . . . The Biden administration should . . . start building allied support for a resolution to dissolve the [new anti-Israel] commission. There is precedent for the U.S. successfully leading such a reversal when it uses its diplomatic muscle: the 1991 General Assembly vote to repeal a 1975 resolution declaring Zionism to be racism, which is essentially what the UNHRC’s commission of inquiry was established to conclude.

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