Blinken: US to run for UNHRC seat, abolish anti-Israel bias

 The United States plans to run for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday as he decried the 47-member body‘s bias against Israel and called for its Agenda Item 7 to be abolished.
“I’m pleased to announce the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term,” Blinken said as he spoke at the virtual high-level meeting of the 46th session which opened Monday and ends on March 23.
Former US president Donald Trump exited the UNHRC in 2018, abandoning the US seat, to protest the council’s bias against Israel, which is the subject of more resolutions than any other country. 
US President Joe Biden rejoined the council, but as a participant and not a voting member. The US can regain its seat only through elections held annually by the UN General Assembly in New York.
“We humbly ask for the support of all UN member states in our bid to return to a seat in this body,” Blinken said.
He lauded the UNHRC for its important work in highlighting global human rights abuses, but chastised it for its treatment of Israel.
“We urge the Human Rights Council to look at how it conducts its business. That includes its disproportionate focus on Israel,” Blinken said.
“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,” he said.
Since its inception, the US has pushed to eliminate a council mandate to debate alleged Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians at every session under agenda Item 7. 
Such alleged abuses against all other countries are debated under Agenda Item 4. There is no other country for which there is a standing agenda item.
When he addressed the UNHRC on Monday Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki said that Agenda Item 7 was an important mechanism by which the Palestinians protect themselves against Israeli abuses.
He urged the UNHRC to ensure that it is part of the agenda of each session until such time as Israel as withdrawn to the pre-1967 lines and the “occupation” has come to an end.
“Those who call for the removal of this item are fighting against human rights, they are allowing Israel to continue to commit the crimes it has committed for the past 54 years. This strengths Israel’s position as a state above the rule of law,” Malki said.
“Agenda Item 7 is vital If we remove it, it’s an attempt to remove the rights of Palestinian people. It is the an attempt to remove the scrutiny of international human rights bodies. We see no end to the crimes of the occupying power, and those member that side with the occupying power are accomplices,” Malki said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UNHRC Meirav Shachar called on UN member states to protest Agenda Item 7 by refusing to participate in the debate. Israel allergy boycotts the Agenda Item 7 meeting and most European and Western countries also refuse to participate.
“The institutional bias reflected in Item 7, is an ongoing testimony of this Council’s partiality and politicization against Israel. I call on all states two refrain from participating in the Item 7 discussion and mechanisms. I also call on all members states to vote against all resolutions against my country presented in this session,” Shachar said.
“Despite the biases and discrimination Israel will continue to work with the Council on issues that urgently need the world’s attention,” Shachar said.
At this session, the UNHRC is expected to approve at least five pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel resolution, four of them are tabled under Agenda Item 7. No other country is the subject of so many resolutions.
Only the UNHRC’s 47 members can vote on the resolutions. The US and Israel are not members of the council, and can not vote against the resolutions.
On Wednesday at the UNHRC Blinken spoke more broadly on about the US position on human rights and the importance of the council to the global battles to uphold those rights.
Blinken told the UNHRC that his country was placing “democracy and human rights at the center of our foreign policy, because they are essential for peace and stability.”
Among the problematic human rights situations he believed the UNHRC should address, he highlighted problems in Myanmar, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, China, Sri Lanka, Syria, North Korea, South Sudan, Russia and Iran. 
“We reiterate our call for the Russian government to immediately and unconditionally release Alexei Navalny, as well as hundreds of other Russian citizens wrongfully detained for exercising their rights,” Blinken said.
To ensure that the UNHRC upholds a high standard for human rights it is important to ensure that countries with the “worst human rights records” should not be part of the council, Blinken continued.
The UNHRC must address global problems of racism, homophobia and gender inequity, as well as well discrimination against people with disabilities, he said.
Blinken also reflected on his own country’s problematic human rights record.
“I recognize that any pledge to fight for human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight for human rights at home,” he explained. “People of color in the United States deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice.”
“The United States does not claim to be perfect but we strive every day to improve, to hold ourselves accountable, to become a more perfect union,” Blinken said.

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