Multilateralism is Back: Engaging the UN Human Rights Council with Humility

United Nations Geneva

February 24, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken today addressed the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s leading human rights body that the Trump Administration decided to cold-shoulder. While the Human Rights Council has many obvious flaws, it is an essential institution, and it has provided important leadership on LGBTQI rights.

In addition to today’s welcome announcement that the U.S. will again seek a seat on the Human Rights Council, it is also important to highlight the difference between today’s speech by Secretary Blinken and the contrasting vision of America that Secretary Pompeo put forward in his speech last July releasing the report of his discredited Commission on Unalienable Rights. It’s a vastly different reading of our history and what true leadership looks like on the world stage. And Secretary Blinken, unlike his predecessor, not only recognized the need for inclusive policy action, but he explicitly referenced sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics – signaling commitments to the full range of identities in the LGBTQI+ community.

Now more than ever, the United States needs to stand for human rights by openly admitting our own flaws and struggles, and our power to address them. This is true in terms of the enduring legacy of structural racism, a subject Secretary Blinken addressed head-on today, as well as our history of systematic LGBTQI discrimination.  Today’s speech was an important step in that direction.

The contrasting understanding of America’s history is obvious – and the humility in addressing it significant. See here:

“[A]ny pledge to fight human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight human rights at home. People of color in the U.S. deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice. . . . We must do more to advance racial justice globally. . . . And we will pursue a policy to end violence and discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. The United States does not claim to be perfect, but we strive every day to improve, to hold ourselves accountable, and to become a more perfect union.”

Secretary Blinken, speaking today to the UN Human Rights Council

“[T]the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack. Instead of seeking to improve America, too many leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles. . . . They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . . This is a dark vision of America’s birth. I reject it. It’s a disturbed reading of history. It is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding . . . .”

Former Secretary Pompeo, speaking in July 2020 at the release of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Multilateralism is back, and we must strive every day with humility and dedication to make both the United States and the United Nations live up to their full potential.

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