UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted to suspend Russia from the world body’s top human rights body over allegations of horrific human rights abuses. man by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which the United States and Ukraine have described as war crimes.
It was a rare, if not unprecedented, rebuke to one of the five members of the UN Security Council with the power of veto.
The vote on the US-initiated resolution was 93 to 24 with 58 abstentions, significantly lower than the vote on two resolutions the assembly passed last month demanding an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, the withdrawal of all Russian troops and the protection of civilians. These two resolutions have been endorsed by at least 140 nations.
Deputy Russian Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin announced after the vote that Russia had withdrawn from the Human Rights Council earlier on Thursday, before the assembly took action, apparently pending the results. He accused the council of being monopolized by a group of countries with “short-term political and economic interests” which he accused of “gross and massive violations of human rights”.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is tasked with highlighting and approving investigations into rights abuses, including in Syria and late March in Ukraine. And it conducts periodic reviews of the human rights situation in the 193 member countries of the UN.
The 47-member council was created in 2006 to replace a discredited commission due to some members’ poor 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 joined this year – currently sit on the Human Rights Council. Eritrea, Venezuela, Sudan and Libya are other members whose rights record is widely in question along with China.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said when the US was elected to the council last year that it had an important role to play in “documenting atrocities to hold wrongdoers accountable”. And he said the United States and other countries “must push back against attempts to overthrow the ideals on which the Human Rights Council was founded.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from its seat on the council following videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha littered with dead bodies of what appeared to be civilians after the withdrawal of Russian soldiers. The deaths sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions against Russia, which has vehemently denied its troops were responsible.
Russia is the second country to have its membership rights stripped of the Rights Council which was established in 2006. In 2011, Libya was suspended by the assembly when unrest in the North African country toppled longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
While nearly half of the 193 UN member countries supported the resolution, more than half voted against, abstained or did not vote.
Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries called it premature, noting that investigations are underway to determine whether war crimes have been committed, or said it would damage the credibility of the Human Rights Council. of Man and the United Nations. Others said the resolution reflected US and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents called Western hypocrisy and selective outrage over human rights.
In addition to the Human Rights Council investigation, led by former Norwegian judge Erik Mose, who previously served as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.
Ahead of the vote, Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya urged assembly members to stop the Human Rights Council from “sinking” and suspend Russia, saying it had committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
“Russia’s actions are beyond pale,” he said. “Russia is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the foundations of international peace and security.”
Kuzmin, from Russia, urged members to vote “no”.
“What we are witnessing today is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and its total control,” he said. “We reject false allegations against us based on staged events and widely publicized forgeries.”
In an appeal to some member states ahead of the vote, Russia said the attempt to expel it from the Human Rights Council was political and supported by countries that want to preserve their dominant position and control over the world.
These nations want to pursue “the policy of human rights neo-colonialism” in international relations, Russia said in the document obtained by The Associated Press, insisting that its priority is to promote and defend human rights, including multilaterally at the Human Rights Council. .
Kyslytsya responded to Russia’s complaints saying, “We have heard, repeatedly, the same perverse logic of the aggressor trying to present himself as the victim.”
While the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva, its members are elected by the General Assembly for a three-year term. Russia’s mandate ends in December 2023.
The March 2006 resolution that created the council states that the assembly can suspend the membership rights of a country “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights”.
The brief resolution that was approved expresses “serious concern at the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crisis in Ukraine, in particular at reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses. human rights “.
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 calling for an immediate ceasefire and the protection of millions of civilians and homes, schools and hospitals essential to their survival.
The vote was almost exactly the same as a March 2 resolution the assembly passed demanding an immediate Russian ceasefire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection of all civilians. This vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
China abstained in both votes but voted against suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.
“Such a hasty decision in the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will deepen division among member states and intensify confrontation between relevant parties,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said. “It’s like adding fuel to the fire. ”
India abstained for the third time.
Indian Ambassador TS Tirumurti said his country was not taking sides except “on the side of peace and an immediate end to violence”. “When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option,” he added.
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