US calls for removal of Russia from Human Rights Council amid accusations of ‘war crimes’ in Bucha

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tells UN security council remove Russia or "dissolve yourself".(Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, urged states on Tuesday to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, where it currently holds one of the 47 seats.

Countries have the power to strip Russia from its human rights council seat through a UN general assembly resolution, Thomas-Greenfield told fellow members at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. 

She  accused Russia of “using its membership on the Human Rights Council as a platform for propaganda to suggest Russia has a legitimate concern for human rights”.

“Not only is this the height of hypocrisy, it is dangerous,” she said. 

Both Thomas-Greenfield and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had already announced their intentions on Monday to suspend Russia from the HRC as punishment for invading Ukraine. At the security council meeting, only Albania backed the proposal.

The US’s call followed a video address by Ukrainian President, Volodymir Zelenskyy, who pleaded with the Council to strip Russia of its permanent seat “as an aggressor and a source of war so it cannot block decisions about its own aggression” or “dissolve yourself”.

The meeting in New York comes as images of charred and decaying corpses with civilian clothes have emerged in the last few days as Russian troops have started to retreat and regroup in Eastern Ukraine. There have also been reports of sexual violence and rape of Ukrainian women and girls.

At a UN press briefing earlier on Tuesday, spokesperson Liz Throssell emphasised the “disturbing” nature of images and videos coming from Bucha. “Images of people with their hands bound, women found partially burnt and naked suggests they were directly targeting individuals, under international law the deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime,”  Throssell said.

“Before we were speaking of war crimes such as indiscriminate shelling and the destruction of buildings which may have a military context to it. But what context is there for intentional targeting of civilians?” 

A video was played upon request from Ukraine showing images and videos of victims from Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities. Taking the floor, Russian ambassador to the UN,  Vasily Alekseevich Nebenzya, called the allegations against the Russian army “lies”, claiming that “the corpses were not there right after the withdrawal of the Russian forces” and putting the blame on Ukrainian forces.

He went on to say the forensic verifications conducted by The New York Times into the alleged killings were “scientifically absurd”.

Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, Sergiy Kyslytsya, rebuked Nebenzya’s comments and sarcastically thanked him for acknowledging the war at a press briefing on Monday. “War is what you said several times, not the special operation. I consider this confession shall impact the UN assessment of what is going on in the centre of Europe,” he said.

Speaking at the security council meeting, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called for “an independent investigation to guarantee effective accountability” into the events in Bucha. State members including France, Ireland and Gabon echoed his calls.