The US must be in the fray at the Human Rights Council. To do anything else is to surrender the field to the opposition. To those such as the members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference who seek to repress freedom of expression. To those such as China, Cuba and, yes, Russia, which define "human rights" in a notably narrow and self-serving fashion.
Now, for the critical caveat. The inevitable, "but."
Whether this change of policy will be good for the US and all other countries in the world with an expansive understanding of the term "human rights" or not depends upon the details of implementation. The outcome will be good, bad or indifferent depending upon the stance taken by the US in the Council as well as the personality and dynamic of the person appointed to sit in the chair behind the sign reading, "United States of America."
The UN Human Rights Council is not a place for a tender minded, ever-so-sensitive person who frets about how empathic the US is with the customs, traditions and religious sensibilities of other governments. The UNHRC is a venue in which a tough, persistent and hard-driving representative of American (and Western) values of human dignity and liberties must wage a constant fight on behalf of the ideals and their expression which are the legacy of generations of war with repression.
If the High Minded of our society are correct, if the bumper sticker philosophy of "We are all passengers on space ship Earth," is to have any significance beyond some warm fuzziness, then all of us, all members of the Order of the Belly Button must have the same rights, the same privileges, the same dignity and the same responsibilities. Further these must be defined and construed in the broadest possible way. There can be no levelling down of these aspects of human life and the human condition.
The Geek is neither High Minded nor Lofty Thinking. The study of history precludes such. He is a realpolitiker. Nonetheless both the lessons of history and the dictates of realpolitik demand that human rights are real and very broad. Anything less opens the door wide to brutal authoritarianism. The pervasiveness of great fear. The snuffing out of technological, social and political progress. It degrades life and makes for mere biological existence.
An environment in which human rights are curtailed, in which the individual is degraded, in which expression is repressed is one rife with the potential for war and all the attendant features of that all-too-common aspect of the human experience. Over the sweep of recent history the vast majority of wars, and certainly all the most devastating ones, were started by regimes which were both authoritarian and of necessity suppressive of the rights of the individual.
The US and other countries are rather good at protecting and expanding the rights of the individual in their domestic contexts. The US is good, even very good at preaching to both the choir and those sitting far from the pulpit about human rights.
The US is not very good at fighting (rhetorically that is) for rights and against those governments which seek under whatsoever color to restrict them. Now, that may change.
It may change if, and only if, the Obama Administration follows through with a firm set of policies and a very determined representative at the UNHRC. We may have to fight a very long and very difficult diplomatic and oratorical contest in that venue, but it is something we must do for our own good. And the good of the oppressed throughout the world.