In the wake of atrocities reminiscent of Nazi Germany perpetrated by the Russians in Ukraine, Russia has been expelled from the UN Human Rights Council.
On Thursday, Apr. 7, the UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations that the United States and Ukraine have called war crimes.
It was a rare, if not unprecedented, rebuke against one of the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council.
Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos showing streets in the town of Bucha on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, strewn with the bodies of civilians after Russian soldiers retreated. The deaths have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied its troops were responsible.
President Joe Biden said the vote demonstrated how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war “has made Russia an international pariah.” He pledged to continue working with other nations to gather evidence to hold Russia accountable, increase the pressure on its economy and isolate it on the international stage.
Russia is only the second country to have its membership rights stripped by the rights council. The other, Libya, was suspended in 2011 by the assembly when upheaval in the North African country brought down longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is tasked with spotlighting and approving investigations of rights violations, and it does periodic reviews of the human rights situation in all 193 UN member nations.
It has created commissions of inquiry — which provide its highest level of scrutiny on alleged rights violations and abuses — for conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere. It has also set up fact-finding missions in places like Libya, Myanmar, and Venezuela.
The vote on the U.S.-initiated resolution suspending Russia was 93-24 with 58 abstentions, significantly lower than on two resolutions the assembly adopted last month demanding an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, withdrawal of all Russian troops, and protection for civilians. Both of those resolutions were approved by at least 140 nations.
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already withdrawn from the council before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result. By withdrawing, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.
Kuzmin said Russia considers adoption of the resolution “an illegitimate and politically motivated step” by a group of countries with “short-term political and economic interests” that he accused of “blatant and massive violations of human rights.”
While almost half the UN’s 193 member nations supported the resolution, more than half either voted against it, abstained, or didn’t vote.
Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries called it premature, noting there are ongoing investigations into whether war crimes have occurred or said it would undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Others said the resolution reflected American and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents called Western hypocrisy and selective outrage about human rights.
In a document circulated by Russia and obtained by The Associated Press, Russia said the US and other opponents want to preserve their control over the world and continue “the politics of neo-colonialism of human rights” in international relations.
The vote and Russia’s withdrawal, however, have a direct impact on Moscow’s voice in a human rights body that has increasingly become a venue for a global standoff between Western democracies and autocratic countries. China will lose a key ally there.
China abstained in both assembly votes last month but voted against suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.