The UN General Assembly suspended Russia from the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, citing reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” committed by invading Russian troops in Ukraine.
The resolution, which was spearheaded by the United States, received 93 votes in favour, 24 votes against, and 58 abstentions. Suspension of Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council required a two-thirds majority of voting members in the 193-member General Assembly in New York – abstentions do not count.
Russia had warned that a yes vote or abstention would be viewed as a “unfriendly gesture” with negative implications for bilateral relations. The resolution expresses “grave concern” over the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, especially reports of Russian rights violations.
Russia was serving its second year on the Geneva-based council, which does not have the authority to make legally binding decisions. Its decisions can authorise investigations and send important political messages.
The UNHCR rarely suspends people. Libya was put on hold in 2011 after forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used violence against protesters. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the 193-member United Nations General Assembly has passed three resolutions. The previous two UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia received 141 and 140 votes in favour, respectively.
Moscow is one of the council’s most outspoken members, and its suspension prevents it from speaking or voting, though its diplomats can still attend debates. Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the council launched an investigation into allegations of human rights violations, including possible war crimes.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador, said that a yes vote would “save the Human Rights Council and many lives around the world and in Ukraine,” whereas a no vote would be “pulling a trigger, and means a red dot on the screen – red as the blood of the innocent lives lost.”
After Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of civilians in the town of Bucha, the United States announced that it would seek Russia’s suspension.
Gennady Kuzmin, Russia’s UN deputy ambassador, said now was not the time for “theatrical performances,” accusing Western countries and allies of attempting to “destroy existing human rights architecture.”
“We reject the false allegations against us based on staged events and widely circulated fakes,” Kuzmin said before the vote, defending Russia’s record as a member of the Human Rights Council.
After voting in favour of the resolution in the previous two General Assembly votes, Russia’s ally China voted against it on Thursday. “Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, forcing countries to choose sides, will exacerbate division among member states, intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned – it’s like adding fuel to the fire,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said before the vote.