UN votes to suspend Russia from Human Rights Council, China cries foul

Following reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” by Russian invading forces in Ukraine, the United Nations General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The United States led the push to evict Russia, which required a two-thirds majority of the 193-member General Assembly — not counting abstentions — for the Russian suspension to pass. In the end, 93 nations voted in favor, with 24 countries voting against the measure and 58 nations abstaining, according to Reuters.

This is a rare move by the General Assembly, Reuters reported. Though the body had previously passed two resolutions condemning Russia since the start of the invasion on February 24, the last time it has moved to suspend a nation from the Human Rights Council was in 2011, when Libya was suspended over violence committed by supporters of then-leader Muammar Gaddafi against protestors.

In the case of Russia, the U.S. calls for suspension were triggered by accusations from Ukraine against Russian troops who allegedly killed hundreds of civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

While the Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, has no authority to make legally binding decisions, its resolutions do send powerful political statements to the world and it can give the green light to investigations.

As a result of the suspension, Russia — traditionally one of the most vocal members of the council — will be barred from speaking and voting, though they are still able to send its diplomats to monitor debates, potentially allowing Moscow to still influence any proceedings.

“They would probably still try to influence the Council through proxies,” said one diplomat based in Geneva.

Prior to the vote, Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya declared that voting yes to the suspension would “save the Human Rights Council and many lives around the world and in Ukraine,” whereas a no vote was tantamount to “pulling a trigger, and means a red dot on the screen — red as the blood of the innocent lives lost.”

In contrast, also before the vote, the U.N. Ambassador from Russia, Gennady Kuzmin, stated that this was not the time for “theatrical performances.” He accused Western nations and their allies of attempting to “destroy existing human rights architecture” based on fake news.

“We reject the untruthful allegations against us based on staged events and widely circulated fakes,” Kuzmin said to the General Assembly.

And while Russia’s “no-limit partner,” China, had opted to abstain on the two previous votes relating to Russia, Beijing voted in opposition to the suspension, calling the move “hasty.”

“Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among member states, intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned — it is like adding fuel to the fire,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said prior to the vote.

It’s an interesting comment from a nation many are surprised to learn also holds a seat on the Human Rights Council, given its widely acknowledged genocide against its Uyghur population.

As author Yair Rosenberg noted on Twitter, other questionable members of the Human Rights Council include Cuba, Eritea, Venezuela “and innumerable other massive human rights abusers.”

“A band aid won’t solve that problem,” Rosenberg tweeted.

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