UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly will vote Thursday on whether to suspend Russia from the U.N.’s premier 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. The videos and reporting from the town have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied responsibility.
“We believe that the members of the Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine, and we believe that Russia needs to be held accountable,” Thomas-Greenfield said 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. The March 2006 resolution that established the Human Rights Council states that the assembly may suspend membership rights of a country “that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”
The brief resolution to be voted on expresses “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, particularly at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights.”
To be approved, the resolution requires a two-thirds majority of assembly members that vote “yes” or “no.” Abstentions don’t 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 almost exactly the same as for the March 2 resolution the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all 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 and the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, and the United States — all currently have seats on the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. rejoined this year.
The only country to have its membership rights stripped at the council was Libya in 2011, when upheaval in the North African country brought down longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, said council spokesman Rolando Gomez.
No permanent member of the Security Council has ever had its membership revoked from any U.N. body.
Story by Edith M. Lederer