The United Nations General Assembly will vote on whether or not to exclude Russia from the UN’s top human rights committee on Thursday. The decision was made by the US in response to the finding of hundreds of dead after Russian soldiers withdrew from villages near Kyiv, prompting calls for Russian personnel to be punished for war crimes.
U.S. Following footage and images showing streets in Bucha strewn with bodies of what seemed to be civilians, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called for Russia’s place on the 47-member Human Rights Council to be taken away. The recordings and reports from the town have provoked worldwide outrage and calls for stronger penalties against Russia, which has categorically denied any involvement.
“We think that Russian army members perpetrated war crimes in Ukraine, and we believe that Russia must be held accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday. “Russia’s Human Rights Council membership is a charade.”
The General Assembly’s emergency special session on Ukraine will resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday, when the resolution “to suspend the rights of participation in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation” will be presented to a vote, according to spokesperson Paulina Kubiak.
While the Human Rights Council is situated in Geneva, its members are chosen for three-year terms by the 193-nation General Assembly. The Human Privileges Council’s founding resolution from March 2006 stipulates that a country’s membership rights may be suspended if it “commits grave and systematic abuses of human rights.”
The short resolution up for a vote expresses “grave concern” about the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, “particularly in light of reports of Russian Federation violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights.”
The resolution must be passed by a two-thirds majority of assembly members voting “yes” or “no.” Abstentions are not taken into account.
On March 24, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution criticizing Russia for the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine and requesting an urgent cease-fire and protection for millions of people as well as their homes, schools, and hospitals.
The vote was nearly identical to that of the assembly’s March 2 resolution, which demanded an immediate Russian cease-fire, the departure of all Russian soldiers, and protection for all civilians. With 35 abstentions, the result was 141-5.
Thomas-Greenfield stated Monday that her message to the 140 members of the Human Rights Council who voted in favor of the two resolutions supporting Russia’s suspension is simple: “The pictures from Bucha and the devastation in Ukraine demand that we immediately back up our words with action.”
“We cannot allow a member state to continue to sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council while violating every value we hold dear,” she added.
The resolution’s supporters are confident about its passage, but not necessarily with the backing of 140 nations.
Russia requested an undefined number of nations to vote “no,” claiming that non-voting or abstention would be seen as hostile and have an impact on bilateral ties.
Russia claimed in a so-called “non-paper” obtained by The Associated Press that the attempt to expel it from the Human Rights Council is political and is being backed by various countries in order to maintain their dominant position and control over the world and continue “human rights neo-colonialism” in international relations.
Russia stated that promoting and defending human rights, particularly multilaterally in the Human Rights Council, is a top priority for the country.
“Unfounded and merely emotional bravado that looks good on camera — precisely how the US loves it,” Russia’s ambassador to Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, said of the US move.
“Washington is profiting from the Ukrainian situation in order to either ban or suspend Russia from international institutions,” Gatilov stated, according to a spokesperson for the Russian diplomatic mission.
Russia, as well as the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with veto power — the United Kingdom, China, France, and the United States – all have seats on the Human Rights Council, which the United States rejoined this year.
According to council spokesperson Rolando Gomez, the only nation to have its membership privileges revoked at the council was Libya in 2011, when instability in the North African country brought down longstanding leader Moammar Gadhafi.
In the history of the United Nations, no permanent member of the Security Council has ever had their membership revoked.