On November 12, the United States won reelection to the U.N. Human Rights Council, ensuring continued U.S. leadership for an additional three years. Our reelection, while certainly a victory for the United States, is also an important reminder of the central role the country plays and must continue to play on the international human rights stage.
Notwithstanding clear benefits that flow from continued U.S. engagement, critics continue to express disapproval of the U.S. role at the council. It's time to put some of these criticisms to rest.
One well-rehearsed critique boils down to this: The United States should not engage with the Human Rights Council because it is irredeemably flawed. The defects of the council are well known -- a persistent anti-Israel bias, membership that includes states with poor human rights records, and political-regional bloc dynamics that obstruct action. Yes, the council certainly is imperfect.
Yet those who argue that because of these flaws the United States should simply disengage misunderstand our responsibility on human rights and underestimate the value of U.S. leadership. The United States must sustain its leadership role on the council because of, not in spite of, its shortcomings.
The United States has been one of the few voices at the Human Rights Council speaking out against the anti-Israel bias. America has helped turn the council's focus to real time human rights crises such as Libya and Syria.
Admittedly, we cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the fact that dictators such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez were granted seats at the table. This can, and does, undermine the legitimacy of the council. But for the United States to step away rather than doubling down on our leadership responsibilities, and cooperating with the numerous members of the council who are staunch defenders of human rights, would be running from rather than tackling a problem. Indeed, while council membership remains far from ideal, this reality only makes the case for continued and vigorous U.S. engagement stronger.
The more surprising criticism has come from human rights activists who voice the view that the United States does not deserve a seat at the table because of our human rights record at home. We are first to admit that no country has a perfect human rights record, the United States included. But the United States is proud of its human rights record.