The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which the United States and Ukraine have called tantamount to war crimes.
The vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions, significantly lower than the vote 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 is the second country to have its membership rights stripped at the Human Rights Council which was established in 2006. In 2011, the assembly suspended Libya when upheaval in the North African country brought down longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be 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.
“We believe that the members of the Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine, and we believe that Russia needs to be held accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said Monday. “Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce.”
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Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya introduced the U.S.-initiated resolution and urged members to suspend Russia, saying it has committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
“Russia’s actions are beyond the pale,” he said. “Russia is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin 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. “We reject the untruthful allegations against us, based on staged events and widely circulated fakes.”
Approval requires a two-thirds majority of the assembly members to vote “yes” or “no,” with abstentions not counting in the calculation.
Kyslytsya responsed 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.”
And his message to those who would abstain: He quoted the late 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.”
While the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva, its members are elected by the 193-nation General Assembly for three-year terms. The March 2006 resolution that established the rights council says the assembly may suspend membership rights of a country “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”
The brief resolution expressed “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, particularly at the 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 of human rights.”
Russia called on an unspecified number of countries to vote “no,” saying an abstention or not voting would be considered an unfriendly act and would affect bilateral relations.
In its so-called “non-paper” obtained by The Associated Press, Russia said the attempt to expel it from the Human Rights Council is political and being supported by countries that want to preserve their dominant position and control over the world.
Those nations want to continue “the politics of neo-colonialism of human rights” in international relations, it said, saying that Russia's priority is to promote and defend human rights, including multilaterally in the Human Rights Council.
Russia’s ambassador in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, called the U.S. action “unfounded and purely emotional bravado that looks good on camera — just how the U.S. likes it.”
“Washington exploits the Ukrainian crisis for its own benefit in an attempt either to exclude or suspend Russia from international organizations,” Gatilov said, in comments relayed by a Russian diplomatic mission spokesman.
Russia and the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, and the United States — all currently have seats on the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. rejoined this year.
No permanent member of the Security Council has ever had its membership revoked from any U.N. body.
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