U.S. aims to return to U.N. rights body, shield Israel


FILE PHOTO: Overview of the Human Rights Council one day after the U.S. announced their withdraw at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 20, 2018. Picture taken with a fisheye lens. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. President Joseph Biden's new administration said on Wednesday it would continue its international re-engagement by seeking election to the U.N. Human Rights Council where it will press to eliminate a "disproportionate focus" on ally Israel.

Under former President Donald Trump's more isolationist approach, Washington quit the council in 2018 but the Biden government has already returned as an observer.

"I'm pleased to announce the United States will seek election to the Human Rights Council for the 2022-24 term," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council by video.

"We humbly ask for the support of all U.N. member states in our bid to return to a seat in this body."

Elections for three-year membership on the 47-member council are due at the U.N. General Assembly in October.

Britain, China and Russia are among members, as are the Philippines and Venezuela who are under formal scrutiny by the Council. "Those with the worst human rights records should not be members of this Council," Blinken added.

'CALL OUT ABUSES'

The council, set up in 2006, has a stand-alone item on the Palestinian territories on its agenda every session - the only issue with such treatment - which both Democratic and Republican administrations have opposed.

It routinely adopts resolutions condemning alleged violations by Israel in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

"As the United States re-engages, we urge the Human Rights Council to look at how it conducts its business. That includes its disproportionate focus on Israel," Blinken said.

"We will continue to call out abuses in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Iran," he added.

Blinken reiterated the U.S. call on Russia to release opposition figure Alexei Navalny as well as hundreds of others detained during protests.

He said Washington would denounce atrocities in Xinjiang, China's western region where activists and U.N. experts say 1 million Muslim Uighurs are held in camps. And he acknowledged rights issues at home, saying the United States would work to combat both systemic racism and economic injustice.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Michael Shields and Andrew Cawthorne)

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