UN votes to suspend Russia from human rights council

The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council amid global outrage over atrocities Moscow’s forces are believed to have committed against civilians in Ukraine.

The general assembly voted to suspend Russia as a member of the organization’s top human rights body, with 93 countries voting in favor and 58 abstentions. 

Russia voted against the measure, and was joined by 23 other countries. 

The vote comes following at least two votes in the General Assembly condemning Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, on March 2 and March 24. 

The vote was proposed by Ukraine’s mission to the U.N., which is also a member of the Human Rights Council. Established in 2006, the council built into its founding a mechanism to suspend the membership of a council member “that commits gross and systematic violations of human right.” 

Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, speaking before the vote said they viewed the move “as a rare and extraordinary action. However, Russia’s actions are beyond the pale. Russia is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.”

The ambassador criticized countries that abstained or voted against the resolution.  

“Pressing ‘no’ means pulling a trigger and means a red dot on the screen, red as the blood of the innocent lives lost. And this image of the red, bloody dots on this screen will stay with you and all of us as long as memory does not fail us,” Kyslystya said.  

The Russian envoy to the United Nations, speaking ahead of the vote, dismissed the resolution as “theatrics” and said Russia’s exclusion from the council “could be a dangerous precedent.”

The human rights council is often criticized for including countries as members with their own damning human rights atrocities. Eritrea, for example, was elected to the body in 2021 but is criticized by the U.S. and other nations for aiding the Ethiopian government in its civil war and contributing to grave human rights abuses against the ethnic Tigray population. 

It is also criticized for a disproportionate focus on condemning alleged human rights abuses by Israel.

Yet supporters say bringing those nations into the conversation is part of efforts to address such concerns. It is expected that members of the council fulfill the responsibility to uphold human rights standards. 

The council has a specific number of seats designated for global regions and members are elected to the council in a vote by the General Assembly, both by direct and secret ballots, and serve for a period of three years, allowing only two consecutive terms. 

The Biden administration promoted the U.S. election to the council in 2021 following the withdrawal in 2018 under the former Trump administration. 

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