UN votes Russia out of the Human Rights Council over alleged gross violations in Ukraine

(Credit: UNTV)

Allegations of civilian killings in Bucha cost Russia its seat at the Human Rights Council, further isolating it at the global stage.

UN members voted on Thursday to strip Russia from its seat at the Human Rights Council, over alleged civilian killings in the region around Kyiv, Ukraine.

The proposal, presented at a UN General Assembly emergency session in New York, was backed by 93 countries. Russia, China, Belarus, Syria and Iran were among the 24 countries to vote against, while 58 countries, including India, Brazil and South Africa abstained.

This comes as images showing civilians executed in Bucha, Irpin and other cities started to emerge after the withdrawal of Russian troops, sparking widespread condemnation from Western countries.

Introducing the US-led resolution, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, ​​Sergiy Kyslytsya, told fellow members that suspending Russia’s right to sit on the Council, was “not an option, but a duty”.

Kyslytsya urged Assembly members to keep the Council from “sinking” — like the Titanic — and said that Russia has committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Russia, who denies the allegations, accused the US of trying “to maintain its dominant position and total control” and “to continue its attempt at human rights colonialism in international relations”.

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield had announced earlier this week that her country, with the support of European allies, would be seeking Russia’s suspension, citing “war crimes” committed in Bucha.

Some European diplomats told PassBlue that the European bloc was told only moments before the US announced it was making this move.

This is the second time in the history of Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 that a sitting member has been kicked out. The first one was Libya, when late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi led a deadly crackdown on protests in 2011, only to be reinstated eight months later.

This is the also the first time a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been removed from any UN body.

The proposal had been floated around last month in Geneva during the HRC’s last session, but had failed to gather enough support. The images that emerged this weekend have sparked outrage, adding pressure on countries to ramp up their diplomatic response.

A 2006 resolution grants the General Assembly the power to suspend a state from the Human Rights Council for “gross and systematic violations of human rights ”.

The rare decision further isolates Russia at the global stage since its invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Russia’s suspension is effective immediately, and it means that it cannot vote on measures in the Council, among other bans.

Countries react

Taking the floor, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, echoed Russia’s comments and said the move was politically driven. Belarus dubbed it an attempt to “demonise” Russia.

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Warning that they would abstain, several countries including India, Egypt, Senegal, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, argued it was too soon to vote on such a proposal and that investigations into the allegations should be conducted beforehand.

In a statement published on its website, Russia's permanent mission in Geneva called the decision “an unlawful and politically motivated step, the sole purpose of which - to exert pressure on a sovereign state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy”.

Chile, who voted in favour, said the invasion of one state by another one “contravenes international law”.

The European Union, also speaking for Norway, Iceland and a group of Balkan states, accused Russia of bombing schools and hospitals, committing “war crimes and other serious violations”, and called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

France said after the vote that it “hails” this “courageous decision”.

Thomas-Greenfield of the US said after the vote: “This is an important and historic moment. Countries from around the globe have voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council for its gross and systematic violations of human rights. We have collectively sent a clear message that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored.”

Russia announced after the vote to suspend it from the Council that it was “withdrawing” from the body. Britain’s ambassador said in response, “that sounds like someone who has just been fired, tendering their resignation”.

“Withdrawal does not negate suspension,” Canada said as well. It remains unclear if Russia can actually withdraw after it has been suspended. A withdrawal can mean that the seat is vacated and a new country can be elected to take Russia’s place.

This article was co-posted with PassBlue.

It was updated with contributions by Dulcie Leimbach, reporting from the UN in New York City.