Secretary of State Antony Blinken recommitted the U.S. to rejoining the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, three years after former President Donald Trump withdrew over what his administration called bias against Israel.
"I'm here to reaffirm America's commitment to respect and defend the human rights of all people, everywhere," Blinken said in a video speech at the U.N.'s top human rights body meeting.
It's the latest move by President Joe Biden's administration to undo Trump's legacy of disengaging with international agreements and organizations.
Blinken said the United States was seeking support for its election to the council for the 2022-24 term. Elections for three-year membership on the 47-member council are due to be held at the U.N. General Assembly in October.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the international body in 2018 after repeated threats to leave - a move that Blinken had earlier said created "a vacuum of U.S. leadership." Trump's ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, at the time cited the council's "chronic bias against Israel" for U.S. withdrawal, slamming it as "hypocritical and self-serving."
The Trump administration and other critics also said the council was quick to overlook abuses by autocratic regimes and governments.
On Wednesday, Blinken commended the council's record and "meaningful role" in protecting fundamental freedoms, but called for the U.N. body to look at "how it conducts its business," including its "disproportionate focus on Israel."
"We need to eliminate Agenda Item 7 and treat the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories the same way as this body handles any other country," Blinken said.
Israel, a close ally of the U.S., is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under "Item 7" on the agenda. As a result, "Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories" has been part of the council's regular business at every meeting since shortly after the council's formation in 2006.
Blinken also urged the council to ensure its membership reflects its mission. "Those with the worst human rights records should not be members of this Council," he said.
Earlier this month, Blinken said Biden instructed the State Department "to re-engage immediately and robustly" with the human rights council and the U.S. returned as an observer.
Biden has so far rejoined several international treaties and organizations, including the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization - both of which were shunned by Trump. The Biden administration has also said it was ready for talks with Iran about a nuclear agreement that Trump had also abandoned in 2018.
In his speech, Blinken vowed to call out abuses in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iran, and reiterated the U.S. call for Russia to release opposition leader Alexei Navalny, jailed since earlier this month. Blinken also spoke about repressions against Uighurs in Xinjiang, suppression of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, the coup in Myanmar and human rights violations in North Korea.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.