Russia rights council suspension sends strong signal, NGOs say

Russia’s representative Gennady Kuzmin speaks at the UN General Assembly meeting on April 7. (AP pic)


GENEVA: The vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday strengthens the forum and sends a powerful message that “massive”-scale violators cannot be members, rights organisations said.

The UN General Assembly in New York voted overwhelmingly to stop Moscow sitting in judgement of other nations’ human rights records following allegations of war crimes in its six-week-long assault on Ukraine.

Russia withdrew from the council immediately after being suspended.

Evidence of civilian killings in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv has shocked the world. Ukraine blames the deaths on Russian troops. Moscow has denied any civilian killings.

The Human Rights Council (HRC), established in 2006, comprises 47 member states elected by the General Assembly.

The council promotes and protects all human rights worldwide and membership comes with a responsibility to uphold high standards.

The only country ever suspended before was Libya in 2011.

“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,” Human Rights Watch said.

No place for rights violators

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that he was “grateful for the partners’ solidarity … “Let’s force Russia to seek peace together!”

Phil Lynch, executive director of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) said: “This sends a powerful message that the HRC is no place for states that are perpetrating massive human rights violations, including acts that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

In New York, 93 countries voted to suspend Russia, with 24 against — well clear of the two-thirds majority required. Fifty-eight nations abstained.

Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the suspension was an “unlawful and politically motivated step” and that Moscow had, in any case, “made a conscious decision to withdraw in advance”.

Thursday’s vote, “that resulted from the impudent and unprincipled line of the Western countries… discredits the HRC, inflicts irreparable damage to its reputation, undermines its credibility,” he said.

A Human Rights Council spokesman confirmed to AFP that Russia had subsequently withdrawn from the body, in a letter sent to the HRC president shortly after the suspension.

Moscow on HRC a ‘farce’: US

Geneva ambassadors and missions from major Western states countered Russia’s outlook.

The US’ Sheba Crocker said Russia’s “slaughter of civilians and attempt to subvert the world order made its participation on the UN HRC a farce and hurt the credibility of the UN. Russia is out of the HRC; it must get out of Ukraine now.”

Britain’s Simon Manley said council membership was “a privilege, not a right” and members had to uphold the highest standards.

Germany’s mission simply said Russia’s “gross and systematic human rights violations are incompatible with UN HRC membership”.

A third of the council is elected every year, and countries can only serve for two consecutive three-year terms.

The membership is split proportionally by five geographic regions.

Russia and Ukraine were elected to the council as the two eastern European states to serve from 2021 to 2023. An election will be held to replace Russia, following their withdrawal.

China next?

Some non-governmental organisations accuse the regional groups of stitching up the elections by presenting the same number of candidates as vacant seats.

UN Watch’s executive director Hillel Neuer has said in the past that the elections process was designed to weed out the world’s worst rights abusers, but routinely saw oppressive regimes win international legitimacy.

The NGO campaigned for Russia to be expelled from the council and said it would now target other members over their alleged rights violations.

“Next on our list: China — one million Muslims in camps; Cuba — tyranny; Eritrea — slave labour; Libya — tortures migrants; Mauritania — slavery; Pakistan — hosts terrorist; Venezuela — state collapse,” said Neuer.

The ISHR’s Lynch told AFP the suspension vote would “significantly strengthen” the council’s integrity and legitimacy as it showed that “no state, regardless of its economic and political power, is beyond scrutiny”.

“It affirms that there are consequences for membership for those engaged in gross and systematic human rights violations,” he said.

But Uighur campaigner Rushan Abbas said Moscow’s ousting would not lead to a vote on suspending China, telling AFP that, unlike Russia, too many countries were economically “benefiting from China”.