Russia Suspended from UN Human Rights Council

Last Thursday, Russia was suspended from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Members of the UN General Council in New York successfully voted on the suspension following emerging reports of atrocities in Ukraine.

The campaign to suspend Russia was launched by the US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who said Russia must be held accountable “for this unprovoked, unjust, unconscionable war.” She called Thursday’s vote “a historic moment”.

Over the past week, horrific footage has emerged from Bucha – a town on the outskirts of Kyiv – depicting massacred civilians. Following Russian withdrawal from the town, bodies were found strewn across the streets, as well as mass graves. Ukrainian officials say hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed.

Russia denies the accounts, claiming the footage has been ‘staged’. Germany’s foreign intelligence service reports it intercepted radio communications where Russian soldiers discuss the killing of civilians in Bucha.

The resolution to suspend Russia from the UNHRC passed 93-24, with 58 abstentions. Previous resolutions demanding a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal, and civilian protections, passed with 140 votes. Countries who did not support Thursday’s resolution said it was premature, would undermine the UNHRC, or reflected Western geopolitical agendas and selective human rights outrage.

How countries voted in Thursday’s resolution.

The Kremlin warned beforehand it would see supporting votes and abstentions as “unfriendly” acts, with consequences for diplomatic relations. India, Brazil, Mexico and the UAE were among those abstaining. China announced prior to the vote it would vote against the resolution.

Suspension from the UNHRC will have more concrete consequences for Russia than the two previous resolutions. While Russia will technically remain a Council member, it won’t be able to propose resolutions, table amendments or address the council except in deliberations on situations in which it is directly involved.

The Kremlin will no longer have a voice at the Council, which increasingly is seen as a central arena for an ideological battle over human rights, drawn along Western and non-Western lines. As of Thursday, China has lost a key ally in this conflict.

Russia is only the second country to be suspended from the UNHRC, after Libya in 2011. As one of the UN’s five founding members, it’s also the only permanent veto-wielding member to be suspended from any UN body.

Apparently in expectation of the result, Russia withdrew from the Council before the vote took place. The UK’s representative likened the move to handing in one’s resignation after being fired. But Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez said the withdrawal helped Russia to maintain its observer status.

Russia called the resolution “an illegitimate and politically motivated step” by a group of countries with “short-term political and economic interests.” Putin has expressed apathy towards investigations into war crimes by the International Criminal Court, stating the Kremlin saw no “possibility” for ending up in the ICC.

The Council suspension will continue 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.

Cover photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Unsplash.

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