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Austin Professor Rana Siu Inboden calls for more US engagement at UN Human Rights Council to counter China’s influence

D.J. Eaton
Dr. Rana Siu Inboden is on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin.Photo by(Dan Dennis /Unsplash)

American involvement with the United Nations Human Rights Council should be strengthened to halt the spread of "China’s regressive human rights vision," a University of Texas at Austin professor said in Washington, D.C. on December 13.

Speaking before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Dr. Rana Siu Inboden said the U.S. should enlarge its diplomatic presence in Geneva, Switzerland, home of the U.N. Human Rights Council. "A vigorous presence in Geneva will position the U.S. and our allies to push back against China’s attempt to hijack the Human Rights Council," said Inboden, senior fellow with the university’s Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law, in her written remarks.

Unlike China, "the U.S. State Department has failed to adequately staff and support the U.S. mission in Geneva," Inboden said. She also noted that China's diplomats served longer periods of time in the Swiss city which enabled them to become more experienced and more effective.

"This imbalance in resources and expertise enables China to secure votes for its initiatives and to protect itself from scrutiny, even demonstrating that it can mobilize votes in less than 24 hours," Inboden said.

In June 2018, then-President Donald Trump took the United States out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, a move that showed that Trump thought human rights were "not important enough to wage the fight needed to confront the real enemies of human rights around the world," according to Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution. Three years later, President Joe Biden brought the U.S. back into the council. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "We will work hard to ensure the Council upholds its highest aspirations and better supports those fighting against injustice and tyranny around the world."

Trump's abandonment of the council had left a vacuum which had then been filled by China and other autocratic countries. In Geneva, China had come to lead a group of nations known as "the Like-Minded Group (LMG)," she said, adding, "What these nations are like-minded about is advancing a regressive human rights vision that downplays civil and political rights and prioritizes sovereignty over international monitoring even in cases of gross human rights violations."

Some countries, such as India and Indonesia, had joined this group not out of a commitment to authoritarianism but out of a feeling of "residual anti-imperialist solidarity," Inboden said. The U.S. should convince those nations that associating with the LMG “undermines human dignity,” she said.

Before coming to Austin, Inboden worked at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her first book, China and the International Human Rights Regime, was published by Cambridge University Press last year. She was interviewed about the book at the New Books Network on May 23, 2022.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China has been established by Congress to report on the observance of human rights in China. The commission maintains a database about political prisoners in China. The commission is made up of nine senators, nine members of the House of Representatives and five members appointed by President Biden.

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