The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council.
The resolution received a two-thirds majority of those voting, minus abstentions, in the 193-member Assembly, with 93 nations voting in favour and 24 against.
Fifty-eight abstained from the process.
Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, were among those who voted against.
Those abstaining, included India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.
The meeting marked the resumption of a special emergency session on the war in Ukraine and followed reports of violations committed by Russian forces.
This past weekend, disturbing photos emerged from the city of Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv, where hundreds of civilian bodies were found in the streets and in mass graves following Russia’s withdrawal from the area.
Prior to the vote, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya urged countries to support the resolution.
“Bucha and dozens of other Ukrainian cities and villages, where thousands of peaceful residents have been killed, tortured, raped, abducted and robbed by the Russian Army, serve as an example of how dramatically far the Russian Federation has gone from its initial declarations in the human rights domain. That is why this case is unique and today’s response is obvious and self-explanatory,” he said.
This is not the first time that a Member State has had its membership of the Human Rights Council suspended. Libya lost its seat in 2011, following repression of protests by ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later overthrown.
Gennady Kuzmin, Deputy Russian ambassador, in remarks before the vote, called for countries to “vote against the attempt by Western countries and their allies to destroy the existing human rights architecture.”
Parallels with Rwanda
The vote took place on the anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the Ukrainian ambassador drew parallels with this dark page in recent history.
“The genocide in Rwanda was largely due to the indifference of the world’s community, when the UN did not respond to warnings in the UN Security Council and in the General Assembly, a year before the tragedy that we commemorate exactly on this day,” said Mr. Kyslytsya.
“Today, in the case of Ukraine, it is not even a year, because the tragedy is unfolding right now before our eyes.”
Grounds for suspension
The UN Human Rights Council consists of 47 members and is based in Geneva.
Russia joined the body in January 2021 as one of 15 countries elected by the General Assembly to serve three-year terms.
Under the 2006 resolution that established the Council, the General Assembly can suspend a country from membership if it commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.
Russia quits Council
Speaking after the adoption of the resolution, Deputy Permanent Representative Kuzmin, suddenly stated that Russia had already decided that day, to leave the Council before the end of its term.
He claimed the Council was monopolized by a group of States who use it for their short-term aims.
“These States for many years have directly been involved in blatant and massive violations of human rights, or abetted those violations,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
“In spite of their membership as members of the Council, they are not ready to sacrifice their short-term political and economic interests in favour of true cooperation and stabilizing the human rights situation in certain countries.”
‘Dangerous precedent’: China
China was among the countries that voted against the resolution. Ambassador ZHANG Jun, feared any hasty move in the General Assembly would be like “adding fuel to the fire”, as it would aggravate divisions, intensify the conflict, and jeopardize peace efforts.
“Dealing with the membership of the Human Rights Council in such a way will set new dangerous precedent, further intensify confrontation in the field of human rights, bringing a greater impact on the UN governance system, and produce serious consequences,” he said.
EU commends ‘rare decision’
For the European Union (EU), the scale and gravity of Russia’s violations in Ukraine, and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, call for a strong, united international response.
“The rare decision this Assembly has taken today sends a strong signal of accountability and hopefully will help preventing and discouraging more violations of human rights,” said Ambassador Olaf Skoog, head of the EU delegation.
A step in the right direction: USA
The United States was the last country to speak during the day-long meeting.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield described the adoption of the resolution as “an important and historic moment”. It was not only about accountability for Russia, she said, but also about standing with the people of Ukraine.
“Today, the international community took one collective step in the right direction. We ensured a persistent and egregious human rights violator will not be allowed to occupy a position of leadership on human rights at the UN,” said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield.
“Let us continue to hold Russia accountable for this unprovoked, unjust, unconscionable war –and to do everything in our power to stand with the people of Ukraine.”