In another reversal of Trump-era policy, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced the intention of the Biden administration to “reengage immediately and robustly” with the Council.
The Trump administration withdrew from the UNHRC in 2018 citing entrenched bias against Israel and concern at the council’s willingness to admit nations which were themselves frequent abusers of human rights.
Announcing the return of the US to the table, Blinken acknowledged oft-cited failings of the UNHRC, saying: “"We recognize that the Human Rights Council is a flawed body, in need of reform to its agenda, membership, and focus, including its disproportionate focus on Israel."
Nevertheless, he argued that the Trump withdrawal “did nothing to encourage meaningful change, but instead created a vacuum of US leadership, which countries with authoritarian agendas have used to their advantage.”
A spokesperson for UN chief António Guterres welcomed the decision, saying: “The United Nations looks forward to hearing the crucial voice of the United States across the Council’s urgent work.”
The return of the US to the UNHRC, initially as an observer, comes just weeks after the Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, issued an urgent call in response to water being traded for the first time on the Wall Street Futures market, saying it “shows that the value of water, as basic human right, is now under threat.”
“You can’t put a value on water as you do with other traded commodities,” said Arrojo-Agudo. “Water belongs to everyone and is a public good. It is closely tied to all of our lives and livelihoods, and is an essential component to public health.”
The human right to safe drinking water was first recognised by the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly in 2010.
“Water has a set of vital values for our society that the market logic does not recognize and therefore, cannot manage adequately, let alone in a financial space so prone to speculation,” added Arrojo-Agudo.
Arrojo-Agudo has called for “a global debate on the values of water that UN Water proposes for the next World Water Day, on 22 March 2021, under the slogan #water2me.”