U.N. Votes to Suspend Russia From Human Rights Council

A United Nations General Assembly vote on Thursday approved an American-led effort to suspend Russia from the 47-member Human Rights Council over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

Suspension from the council, which is based in Geneva, is a large diplomatic slap at Russia, one of the United Nations’ founding members. The resolution to suspend Russia needed a two-thirds majority of votes cast, with abstentions not counting as votes, and is seen as a barometer of the world’s abhorrence over the apparent atrocities in Ukraine.

The resolution received 93 votes in favor and 24 against, and 58 countries abstained.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called the vote “an important and historic moment.”

The U.S. and European allies have accused Russia of abusing the U.N. platform to spread propaganda and distract attention from the devastation its troops have wrought in Ukraine. The U.S. says the some of the Russian army’s actions amount to war crimes and several U.N. officials have called for independent investigations to hold Russia accountable.

“We ensured a persistent and egregious human rights violator will not be allowed to occupy a position of leadership on human rights at the U.N.,” said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield speaking last after the vote had concluded.

China had said before the vote that it would not support the measure, and India, Brazil, Mexico and United Arab Emirates — all members of the U.N. Security Council — abstained from voting. Their arguments included that the move could worsen the war, and that further investigation of reported atrocities was needed before the United Nations took action.

They also said the United Nations should focus on ending the conflict through diplomatic negotiations. “When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option,” India’s ambassador, T.S. Tirumurti, said.

Ukraine’s ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, had said before the vote that suspending Russia was “not an option, but a duty,” in order to save lives and prevent the Human Rights Council from foundering.

Russia called the move “an attempt by the U.S. to maintain its domination and total control” and to “use human rights colonialism in international relations.”

In a surprise but moot move, Russia announced it was ending its membership in the rights council right after the Assembly voted to suspend it. The reason cited by Russian officials was that the council being “monopolized by one group of states who use it for their short term aims.”

The U.K. representative shot back comparing Russia to someone who hands in their resignation after they are fired from a job.

The action to suspend Russia came in the aftermath of Russia’s indiscriminate bombings in Ukraine and the reported killings and torture of civilians in the suburbs of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, that point to Russian culpability. Ukraine, the United States and other countries have said that the acts amount to war crimes.

Only four countries voted with Russia in two General Assembly resolutions in March that rebuked Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces.

The General Assembly, which elects members of the Human Rights Council, has suspended only one other country: Libya, in March 2011. But that action, taken after President Moammar al-Qaddafi launched a ferocious crackdown on antigovernment protesters, was taken with the support of Libyan diplomats in New York and Geneva who had dissociated themselves from the actions of their government.

Russia’s suspension, by contrast, comes in the face of its blanket denials of any rights violations in Ukraine. The Kremlin had warned that it would consider votes in support of the resolution or even abstentions as “unfriendly” acts that would have consequences for its relations with those countries.

Russia’s suspension is the first time one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council has lost its membership rights in any United Nations organization, rights groups said.

Its suspension from the Human Rights Council has practical as well as symbolic significance.

Russia has been active in Council proceedings challenging any resolutions critical of individual countries, particularly allies such as Syria and Belarus, and proposing amendments aimed at undercutting a wide range of rights initiatives.

After Thursday’s General Assembly vote, it will remain a member of the Council but unable to propose resolutions, table amendments or address the council except in deliberations on situations in which it is directly involved.

The suspension will remain in force until either the General Assembly decides to lift it or until the end of 2023, when Russia’s term as a member comes to an end.

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