The UN Human Rights Council on Monday started a new session that is marked by the return of the U.S. and deep divisions over the outlook of the council.
The crackdown on political dissent in Myanmar and Belarus, and the ongoing violations amid Syria’s decade-long civil war were among the top agenda items for the month long meeting that is taking place online instead of in Geneva.
Washington gave up its seat in the top UN rights body in 2018 while Donald Trump was U.S. president.
The new administration of President Joe Biden decided to end the U.S. boycott and to attend the Human Rights Council as an observer country.
However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made it clear that the U.S. still has deep misgivings about the council’s unrelenting focus on Israel, and about the problematic human rights records of some council members.
Blinken is scheduled to address the session on Tuesday.
Council members China and Russia, along with previous member Saudi Arabia, recently nearly derailed the appointment of Fijian diplomat and former high court judge Nazhat Shameem Khan as Human Rights Council president.
According to diplomats in Geneva, the stand-off over Khan highlights the different attitude towards human rights among council members such as Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines and Pakistan.
These members frequently argue that the council should not meddle in internal matters of other countries by censuring them for rights abuses or by launching investigations.