US elects new UN Human Rights Council envoy

The United States placard at the UN Human Rights headquarters in Geneva. The US withdrew from the Council in June 2018. (Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

President Joe Biden nominated a new ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday as the US rejoins the body following a nearly three-year absence.

The president selected Michèle Taylor, an antisemitism advocate and board member of the US National Center for Civil and Human Rights, to represent the country at the forum, the White House said in a press release.

“Taylor, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, has served as a member of the Committee on State Sponsored Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, a member of the Committee on Conscience and a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council,” read the release.

The US was re-elected to the Human Rights Council earlier this month and will begin its three-year council term in January 2022. Former President Donald Trump quit the Geneva forum in 2018, accusing it of anti-Israel bias and hypocrisy. Israel has received the highest number of critical council resolutions against any country in the council's history.

The council also failed to accept the reforms proposed by then-US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley related to the body's membership, which currently includes many countries accused of human rights abuses such as China, Russia, Eritrea and Venezuela. The Trump administration demanded reforms to prevent authoritarian countries from joining, however these were rejected.

President Biden pledged to join the Council soon after taking office, citing it as a key “multilateral tool” to protect and promote human rights, however he vowed he too would seek to reform what he called the “flawed body”. Eritrea was one of the countries elected to the council alongside the US this year.

The president's re-engagement with the body drew criticism from his opposition in the US. In January, 40 House Republicans signed a letter to Biden urging him to reconsider the move, accusing the council of “disproportionately targeting” Israel while ignoring reports of rights abuses by other members.

“Israel is the only country to be a permanent item on the council's agenda,” the letter read. “This past year, the 43rd Human Rights Council Session adopted five resolutions condemning Israel, and only one each targeting Iran, Syria and North Korea.”

However, the administration acknowledged these concerns, and pledged to push for an overhaul to the body's membership and its focus on Israel.

“We recognise that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement in January. “However, our withdrawal in June 2018 did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”