The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has voted to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where it is serving a three-year term.
Member States voted on a resolution introduced by Ukraine that expressed grave concern, particularly at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by Russia.
The call for Russia’s suspension was initiated by the United States after images of civilian corpses in the town of Bucha drew international condemnation and revulsion.
South Africa called the draft resolution premature and abstained from the vote.
A 2004 resolution establishing the Council says the General Assembly may suspend the membership rights of a country that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.
The vote required a two-thirds majority of those voting Yes or No – while abstentions did not count.
At the end, 93 countries were in favour, 24 against with 58 abstentions.
Introducing the text, Ukraine’s envoy urged the assembly not to repeat the mistakes of indifference that allowed the Rwanda genocide to go unchecked, while Russia warned the decision would destroy the existing global human rights architecture.
Ukraine’s ambassador at the UN Sergei Kyslytsya says, “We view voting to suspend a state’s HRC rights as a rare and extraordinary action. However, Russia’s actions are beyond the pale – Russia is not only committing human rights violations, but it is also shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.”
“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 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and GA a year before the tragedy. Today, in the case of Ukraine, it is not even a year, because the tragedy is unfolding right now before our eyes,” adds Kyslytsya.
Russia objected calling the effort an attempt to destroy the existing global human rights architecture.
Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin says, “Today is not the time or the place for theatrics or these kinds of extremely theatrical performances, like the one presented by Ukraine. In fact, the draft resolution we are considering today has no relationship to the actual human rights situation on the ground.”
“I would like to repeat, quote, our note on which the ambassador mentioned. What we are seeing today is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and total control to continue its attempt at human rights, colonialism and international relations.”
South Africa urged dialogue between the parties and called on the GA to adopt constructive outcomes that encouraged mediation and pointed to a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry established last month to investigate alleged abuses in Ukraine.
South Africa’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Xolisa Mabhongo says, “The commission has not yet commenced its work. We await its findings on the allegations of gross violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law.”
“South Africa is of the firm belief that the tabling of the resolution that we will consider today, is premature and prejudges the outcomes of the commission of inquiry. We must allow the commission to urgently undertake its mandate and report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on its outcomes,” explains Mabhongo.
Cuba warned the suspension mechanism could be used selectively, especially against countries that do not support the interest of domination by others.
Cuba’s representative to the United Nations, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta says, “Could this assembly someday adopt a resolution suspending the membership of the United States and the Human Rights Council? Just to give one example. We all know that – that has not happened, nor will it.”
“Despite its flagrant and massive violations of human rights as a result of invasions and wars against sovereign states, given its geopolitical interests. They have caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of civilians which they term collateral damage. There have been millions of displaced people and destruction throughout our planet. But this assembly has never suspended any of its rights,” adds Cuba’s representative.
The only other country to have its membership of the HRC suspended was Libya after a unanimous decision of the General Assembly in 2011.
South Africa also cautioned that the resolution would further divide and polarize countries on the matter of Ukraine, warning that the Assembly was not following due process.
Ambassador Mabhongo called for consistency on issues of human rights violations in order to support and not undermine the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
The United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted shortly after the vote that the Assembly had sent a clear message that Russia would be held accountable for its actions.