UNITED NATIONS — Thursday’s vote by the U.N. General Assembly is about whether or not to expel Russia from the U.N.’s most important human rights body. The move was initiated by the United States in response to the discovery of hundreds of bodies after Russian troops withdrew from towns near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, sparking calls for its forces to be tried for war crimes.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the call for Russia to be stripped of its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians. Global outrage and demands for stronger sanctions against Russia have been sparked by the videos and reports from Bucha. Russia has repeatedly denied any responsibility.
“We believe the Russian troops committed war crimes against Ukraine and that Russia should be held responsible,” Thomas-Greenfield stated Monday. “Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce.”
General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak said Wednesday the assembly’s emergency special session on Ukraine will resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Thursday when the resolution “to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation” will be put to a vote.
While the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva, its members are elected by the 193-nation General Assembly for three-year terms. In March 2006, it was established that the Human Rights Council may be suspended from membership if a country commits serious and systematic human rights violations .”
. The brief resolution, which is up for a vote, expresses concern over the “continuing human rights crisis in Ukraine” and “grave concern about the violations of human right and violations of international humanitarian laws by the Russian Federation. Abstentions do not count.
The General Assembly voted 140-5 with 38 abstentions on March 24 on a resolution blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival. The vote was nearly identical to the one passed by the General Assembly on March 2. It demanded an immediate cease-fire from Russia, the withdrawal of its entire force and protection of civilians. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
Thomas-Greenfield said Monday that her message to the 140 members who voted in favor of those two resolutions to support Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council is simple: “The images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us now to match our words with action.”
“We cannot let a member state that is subverting every principle we hold dear to continue to sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council,” she said.
Russia’s ambassador in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, called the U.S. action “unfounded and purely emotional bravado that looks good on camera — just how the U.S. likes it.”
“Washington exploits the Ukrainian crisis for its own benefit in an attempt either to exclude or suspend Russia from international organizations,” Gatilov said, in comments relayed by a Russian diplomatic mission spokesman.
Russia, the four permanent members with veto rights of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France and the United States) all have current seats in the Human Rights Council. The U.S. joined the Council this year.
The only country that lost its rights to membership at the council was Libya, 2011, after upheavals in North Africa brought down Moammar Gadhafi.
It has never been possible for a permanent member to be stripped of its Security Council membership from the U.N. body.