United States quit the UN rights body in 2018 under former president Donald Trump, who accused it of hypocrisy and obsession with haranguing Israel.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio  Guterres attend a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 24, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attend a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on February 24, 2020. (Reuters)

The United States has returned to the UN Human Rights Council, three-and-a-half years after its dramatic walk-out – time seized upon by China to assert wider influence. 

The United Nations General Assembly elected 18 new members of the UN's top rights body, with countries kicking off their three-year council term from January 1. 

Though member states were chosen in a secret ballot, the election was a non-contest, with 18 candidate countries standing for 18 seats. 

Beyond the United States, the other states elected are: Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates.

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Promoting, protecting human rights

The council is tasked with promoting and protecting human rights worldwide, addressing violations and making recommendations, but the election of Eritrea again raises the issue of having authoritarian regimes on the body. 

Under former president Donald Trump, the United States quit the council in 2018, accusing it of hypocrisy and obsession with haranguing Israel. 

But when Washington returns in January under President Joe Biden, it will come face to face with an emboldened China that took advantage of the US absence to flex its muscles.

"The Chinese and all those who are fundamentally against human rights as Europeans understand them... oppose economic, social and cultural rights. It is not a new trend, but it is undeniably growing stronger," one European diplomat said.

According to another, "China's objective is simple: to destroy the concept of the universality of human rights and to assert a vision consistent with its political system".

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In recent years, China and its partners, including Belarus and Venezuela, have wheeled out joint statements supporting Beijing's actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and denouncing "human rights violations" in Western countries, including against indigenous Canadians.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies