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Russia suspended from UN Human Rights Council for ‘systematic abuses’

Secretary-General António Guterres with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director-General of World Health Organization (WHO) at WHO headquarters in Geneva. Feb. 24, 2020. (Jean Marc Ferré/United Nations)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The UN General Assembly has voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” by invading Russian troops in Ukraine.

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

The U.S.-initiated resolution adopted by the 193-member General Assembly expressed “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed his gratitude to the UN members who voted in favor of suspending Russia from the Geneva-based 47-member council, which is the UN’s leading human rights organization.

The rebuke marked only the second time a country has been dismissed from the council, which was founded in 2006. Libya’s suspension in 2011 was the first.

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected the suspension, calling the move “illegal and politically motivated, aimed at ostentatiously punishing a sovereign UN member state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy.”

But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the vote.

“A country that is perpetrating gross and systematic violations of human rights should not sit on a body whose job it is to protect those rights,” he said.

Russia was in its second year of a three-year term on the council, whose decisions are not legally binding but send important political messages. It also can authorize investigations.

The suspension bars Moscow’s delegation from speaking and voting at council meetings, but its diplomats can still attend debates.

The world has been outraged by images from the Ukrainian town of Bucha after the withdrawal of Russian troops showing bodies of civilians who appear to have been executed and left in the streets or buried in mass graves.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier this week called for the expulsion of Russia from the UN Security Council “so it cannot block decisions about its own aggression.”

Ukraine’s UN ambassador, Serhiy Kyslytsya, said Russia had committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

He called Russia’s actions in Ukraine “beyond the pale” and said Moscow “is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.”

Deputy Russian Ambassador to the UN Gennady Kuzmin had urged members to vote no.

“What we’re seeing today is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and total control,” he said prior to the vote. “We reject the untruthful allegations against us, based on staged events and widely circulated fakes.”

Kyslytsya responded to Russia’s complaints about the proceeding, saying: “We have heard, many times the same perverted logic of the aggressor trying to present itself as the victim.”

He also cautioned members of the General Assembly against abstaining, quoting Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel: “Indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten.”

Among the 24 countries that voted against the resolution was China, a Moscow ally that has steadfastly abstained from criticizing the invasion of Ukraine. Others were Iran, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Belarus, and Syria.

Several African countries, including South Africa and Senegal, joined Brazil, Mexico, and India in abstaining.