Ukraine war: UN suspends Russia from human rights body

The United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Thursday, citing claims of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” by Russian troops invading Ukraine.

The US-led initiative received 93 votes in favour, 24 votes against, and 58 abstentions. Suspending Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council required a two-thirds majority of voting members in the 193-member General Assembly in New York (abstentions do not count).

Suspensions are uncommon. Libya was suspended in 2011 due to violence perpetrated by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi against protesters.

It was the 193-member General Assembly’s third resolution since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24. The two previous UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia received 141 and 140 votes in favour, respectively.

The resolution, which was passed on Thursday, expressed “grave concern” over the ongoing human rights and humanitarian situation in Ukraine, particularly claims of Russian human rights violations.

Russia claims to be conducting a “special military operation” aimed at destroying Ukraine’s military infrastructure while denying striking civilians. Ukraine and its allies claim that Moscow invaded without warning.

Russia has warned that a yes vote or abstention would be seen as a “unfriendly gesture” with negative implications for bilateral relations.

The Geneva-based council, which cannot make legally enforceable decisions, was in its second year of a three-year tenure for Russia. Its rulings, on the other hand, carry crucial political messages and can authorise probes.

Moscow is one of the council’s most outspoken members, and its suspension prevents it from speaking or voting, according to authorities, but diplomats could still attend deliberations. “They’d almost certainly try to sway the Council through proxies,” a Geneva-based official added.

Since Russia’s incursion, the council has begun an investigation into claims of human rights breaches, including probable war crimes, in Ukraine.

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s United Nations Ambassador, claimed that a yes vote would “save the Human Rights Council and many lives throughout the world and in Ukraine,” while a no vote would be “pulling a trigger, and implies a red dot on the screen – red as the blood of the innocent souls lost.”

After Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of people in the village of Bucha, the US declared that it would pursue Russia’s suspension.

Gennady Kuzmin, Russia’s deputy United Nations ambassador, said now was not the time for “theatrical performances,” accusing Western countries and allies of attempting to “destroy current human rights architecture.”

“We reject the false charges against us based on staged incidents and widely distributed fakes,” Kuzmin said before the vote in the General Assembly, defending Russia’s record as a member of the Human Rights Council.

Following its abstention in the previous two General Assembly votes, Russia’s ally China voted against the resolution on Thursday.

“Such a rushed step in the General Assembly, forcing countries to take sides, will exacerbate division among member states, heighten the confrontation between the parties concerned – it is like adding fuel to the fire,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said before the vote.

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