Secretary of State Antony Blinken, addressing the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva February 24, reaffirmed the new Biden administration’s commitment to support human rights efforts throughout the world. It clearly is a core issue in U.S, public diplomacy in the four years ahead.
He said the United States “will fully re-engage in supporting the Council’s actions.” It will start by seeking election to the Council for its 2022-24 term. Former U.S. President Trump withdrew from the Council in June 2018, and Washington formally rejoined it as an observer on February 8. That was less than three weeks after Mr. Biden’s inauguration.
Secretary of State Blinken acknowledged up front that the U.S. itself does not have a stellar human rights record and that there’s room for improvement. The Biden administration, he said, is committed to fighting systemic racism wherever it occurs — both at home and abroad.
The top priorities
According to VOA’s Geneva-based correspondent Lisa Schlein, Secretary Blinken praised the UN Human Rights Council for its role in protecting fundamental freedoms and addressing unfolding crises, such as the military coup in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
“We need to treat the human rights situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories the same way as this body handles any other crisis.” In addition, Secretary Blinken added, the U.S. will focus on helping the Council focus on fighting systemic racism, both at home and abroad.
Top priorities, as the new U.S. top-ranking diplomat sees it, should include:
- The rights of defenseless people, including women and girls
- LGBT people
- Abuses of religious and minority groups. “Washington,” he added, “will continue to denounce abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iran.”
- Holding to account notorious human rights violators such as Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka and South Sudan.
The major targets of U.S. concern
“We reiterate our call,” Secretary Blinken added, “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.
“ We will speak out for universal values when atrocities are committed In China’s northeastern province of Xinjiang or when fundamental freedoms are undermined (in PRC-controlled) Hong Kong.
“And we are alarmed by the backsliding of democracy in Burma (where a recent military dictatorship seized power from a democratically-elected government (that of Aung Sang Suu Kyi)”.
As VOA correspondent Schlein concluded: “Secretary of State Blinken appealed to the U. N. Human Rights Council to use its current 2021 session to support resolutions addressing issues of concern around the world. Among them: ‘notorious human rights violators such as Syria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan, Mr. Blinken added, “must be held accountable.'”
Not surprisingly, Russia the next day decried what its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called “double standards” employed at the Human Rights Council “in favor of Western democratic values”. He added that this came at the expense of what he termed the legitimate sovereign rights of nations that do not fall within the Western orbit.
All this, as the UN has warned of a potential bloodbath of hundreds of thousands to civilians in Idlib, northwestern Syria, if Russian-backed Syrian forces don’t stop their indiscriminate carpet-bombing of civilians in the region. Mr. Lavrov says Russia has decided to run for a seat on the Human Rights Council next year, as well. (Moscow attempted without success to do this in 2016 after a campaign by human rights groups over its bombing of Syrian civilians). The world will be watching to see what will happen as it seeks again to join the Council.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More