The council has been meeting in Geneva since its creation in 2006
The Obama administration has reversed another policy from the Bush era by seeking a seat for the US on the UN's Human Rights Council.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, jointly announced that the US would stand for election to the body.
The 47-member council is due to hold its next round of elections on 15 May.
The Bush administration criticised the council because it admitted states with poor human rights records.
The council's repeated criticism of Israel and failure to comment on rights abuses elsewhere, such as Sudan, further antagonised the Obama administration's predecessor.
Based in Geneva, the council was created in 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights, which had widely been seen as ineffective.
Current members of the council include China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Obama administration's move as "an important step", a spokesman said.
"Full US engagement on human rights issues is an important step toward realising the goal of an inclusive and vibrant intergovernmental process to protect human rights around the globe," the spokesman added.
'Working from within'
The US state department said the decision to stand for election was in keeping with the Obama administration's "'new era of engagement' with other nations to advance American security interests and meet the global challenges of the 21st Century".
"With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system to advance the vision of the UN Declaration on Human Rights," Mrs Clinton said in the statement.
Ambassador Rice said: "Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible."
She added: "Working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights."
Members elected in May will serve a three-year term.