Upcoming China And US Conflict At UN Human Rights Council

The Economist has an interesting item for anyone interested in a possible UN Human Rights Council resolution denouncing China’s human rights breaches. China and a handful of other countries routinely violate human rights among the council’s members. The Biden Administration reversed a Trump-era decision to withdraw from and halt US engagement with the body, and the United States has rejoined for a term starting this year.

Washington may win some small triumphs in the multilateral conflict, but the Biden Administration’s choice to legitimize the council is more likely to show its flaws. Although no UN body has ever condemned Beijing’s human rights record, the Economist believes America’s return “could assist matters” since Western countries have begun to oppose Chinese efforts to utilize the body to its advantage. In addition, the US and its allies are pressuring the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to release her long-awaited Xinjiang report. But there’s reason to be concerned, too: If the Biden Administration decides to pursue a resolution against China in its first year, some countries backing America fear a battle with China will polarize members and undermine other council activity. A resolution may be defeated, emboldening China. According to Marc Limon of the Universal Rights Group, a think tank in Geneva, the US diplomats constantly worry about numbers.

The Biden Administration has given it a new lease on life by rejoining it. Last February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the council as “an essential multilateral venue dedicated to furthering international human rights efforts.” But, as Blinken understands, the council is faulty. On the other hand, he admitted the body’s “unacceptable bias towards Israel” and “membership procedures that allow nations with horrible human rights records to occupy seats they do not deserve.” He and other Biden officials feel that reform is more accessible from within.

Only passing resolutions criticizing the very wrongdoers that vote on council resolutions, and enacting measures barring them from future membership, can justify openly reengaging with a UN organization that frequently offers the world’s worst human-rights violators a global platform.