The United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council after high-profile allegations of atrocities committed by Russian soldiers during the war in Ukraine.
The voting result was 93 in favor, 24 against and 58 abstentions.
A draft of the resolution says the General Assembly may “suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”
The draft resolution adds that the council has “grave concern” regarding reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” and “violations of international humanitarian law” committed by the Russian Federation during its invasion of Ukraine.
The General Assembly needed to vote in favor by two-thirds of the countries present and voting to remove Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. The measure suspends Russia’s membership in the Council and would launch a review of the matter if the UN deems it appropriate.
The United States ambassador to the United Nations made a case for seeking the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council in front of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, something she and other UN member states have been pushing.
“Russia should not have a position of authority in a body whose purpose – whose very purpose – is to promote respect for human rights. Not only is it the height of hypocrisy – it is dangerous,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
“Every day, we see more and more how little Russia respects human rights,” she said.
Ultimately she argued, “Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council hurts the Council’s credibility. It undermines the entire UN. And it is just plain wrong.”
The Ukrainian ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, ahead of the vote on Thursday called on all United Nations member states to support the resolution suspending Russia from the council.
“Now the world has come to a crucial juncture. We witness that our liner is going through treacherous fog towards deadly icebergs. It might seem that we should have named it the Titanic instead of the Human Rights Council. … We need to take an action today to save the council from sinking,” Kyslytsya said.
The Ukrainian ambassador said Russia’s actions in Ukraine “would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” While he noted that a vote to suspend a country from the Human Rights Council is “a rare and extraordinary action,” he said “Russia’s actions are beyond the pale.”
In response, the deputy Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Gennady Kuzmin, called on member states to reject the resolution, saying it would set a “a dangerous precedent.”
“Today is not the time nor 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,” Kuzmin said.
The Russian representative said the vote on suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council “is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and total control to continue its attempt at human rights colonialism in international relations.”
Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Russia’s suspension sends “a crystal-clear message” that they have “no business” on the council.
“The General Assembly has sent a crystal-clear message to Russia’s leadership that a government whose military is routinely committing horrific rights violations has no business on the UN Human Rights Council,” Charbonneau said. “Gruesome images from Bucha have shocked people around the world. Victims and their families deserve to see those responsible held to account. Investigators from the UN and International Criminal Court should set the wheels of justice in motion by moving swiftly to gather and preserve evidence of war crimes.”
This story has been updated with additional developments on Thursday.