United Nations (AFP) – The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the world’s leading human rights organization over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine have been involved in human rights abuses that the United States and Ukraine have called war crimes.
It was a rare, if not unprecedented, reprimand against one of the five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield called the vote a “historic moment,” telling the assembly: “We have collectively sent a strong message that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored” and that Russia must be held accountable “for this unjustified, unjust and unreasonable war.” .
Thomas Greenfield has launched a campaign to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council following videos and photos showing streets in the Kiev suburb of Bucha, littered with civilian corpses after Russian soldiers withdrew. The deaths sparked global condemnation and calls for tougher sanctions against Russia, which has vehemently denied the responsibility of its forces.
US President Joe Biden said the vote showed how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war had “made Russia an international pariah”. He pledged to continue working with other countries to gather evidence to hold Russia accountable, increase pressure on its economy, and isolate it on the international stage.
Russia is only the second country to have been stripped of membership rights to the Council of Rights. The other, Libya, was suspended in 2011 by parliament when unrest in the North African country brought down longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is tasked with highlighting and approving investigations into rights abuses, and it conducts periodic reviews of the human rights situation in all 193 UN member states.
It has established commissions of inquiry – which provide the highest level of scrutiny of alleged human rights abuses and abuses – of the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere. It has also set up fact-finding missions in places such as Libya, Myanmar and Venezuela.
The vote on the resolution suspended by the United States was 93 to 24 with 58 abstentions, far lower than the two resolutions adopted by the assembly last month calling for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, the withdrawal of all Russian forces and the protection of civilians. These two resolutions have been approved by at least 140 countries.
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already left the council before the council took action, apparently in anticipation of the outcome. With his withdrawal, the council’s spokesman, Rolando Gomez, said that Russia had avoided depriving it of observer status in the human rights body.
Kuzmin said Russia considers the adoption of the resolution “an illegitimate and politically motivated move” by a group of countries with “short-term political and economic interests” which he accused of “blatant and large-scale violations of human rights”.
The 47-member Human Rights Council was created in 2006 to replace a commission that had been discredited by some members’ poor human rights records. The new council soon faced similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies, and to focus on Israel.
Besides Russia, four other permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France and the United States, which rejoined this year – are currently serving on the Human Rights Council for three years. Other members with widely questionable human rights records include China, Eritrea, Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba and Libya.
While nearly half of the United Nations’ 193 member states supported the resolution, more than half voted against, abstained, or did not vote.
Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries described it as premature, noting that investigations were underway into whether war crimes had occurred, or said that it would undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Others said the decision reflected US and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents described as Western hypocrisy and selective anger over human rights.
In addition to the Human Rights Council investigation led by former Norwegian judge Erik Moss, who previously served as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court is conducting an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
Ahead of the vote, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergei Kiseltsya, urged members of the assembly to prevent the Human Rights Council from “sinking” and suspend Russia, saying it had committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
“Russia’s actions go beyond all borders,” he said. Russia is not only committing human rights abuses, it is shaking the foundations of international peace and security.
In a document distributed by Russia and obtained by the Associated Press, Russia said the United States and other dissidents want to maintain their control of the world and continue a “politics of neocolonialism of human rights” in international relations.
Kisletsya responded to Russia’s complaints, saying, “We have heard, many times, the same perverted logic of the aggressor trying to present himself as the victim.”
The General Assembly voted 140 to 5, with 38 abstentions, on March 24 on a resolution blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate ceasefire and the protection of millions of civilians, homes, schools and hospitals essential to their survival.
The vote was roughly the same as the March 2 resolution adopted by the council demanding an immediate cease-fire by Russia, the withdrawal of all its forces and the protection of all civilians. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.
Both of these votes were not legally binding but had influence as a reflection of world opinion.
However, Thursday’s vote and Russia’s withdrawal have a direct bearing on Moscow’s voice in a human rights body that has increasingly become a venue for global confrontation between Western democracies and authoritarian states. China will lose a key ally there.
China abstained from voting in both chambers last month but voted against suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.
Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press contributor Jamie Keiten contributed from Geneva.
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