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Ambs. Kyslytsya and Thomas-Greenfield

The Ukrainian and U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya and Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speak before a U.N. General Assembly vote on April 7, 2022. (Photo: Linda Thomas-Greenfield/Twitter)

UN General Assembly Suspends Russia From Human Rights Council

One activist said it "sent a crystal-clear message to Russia's leadership that a government whose military is routinely committing horrific rights violations has no business" being part of the body.

Jessica Corbett

A majority of United Nations member states on Thursday voted to suspend Russia from the U.N. body charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the world in response to the Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine and mounting war crime allegations.

The final vote in the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) on the resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council (HRC) over "gross and systematic violations of human rights" was 93-24, with 58 nations abstaining.

A two-thirds majority of votes—excluding abstentions—was required to suspend Russia, which was in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based HRC.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of the U.S. based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), tweeted that "because Russia actively pushed governments to vote 'no' rather than abstain, the mere 24 highly abusive governments that wanted to keep Russia on the U.N. Human Rights Council despite its war crimes in Ukraine shows how isolated Russia has become."

HRW's U.N. director, Louis Charbonneau, said in a statement that "the General Assembly has sent a crystal-clear message to Russia's leadership that a government whose military is routinely committing horrific rights violations has no business on the U.N. Human Rights Council."

"Gruesome images from Bucha have shocked people around the world," Charbonneau said. "Victims and their families deserve to see those responsible held to account. Investigators from the U.N. and International Criminal Court should set the wheels of justice in motion by moving swiftly to gather and preserve evidence of war crimes."

Russia responded to the vote by announcing its withdrawal from the HRC. Addressing that move, Ukrainian U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told journalists that "you do not submit your resignation after you are fired."

Reuters noted that "under Thursday's resolution, the General Assembly could have later agreed to end the suspension. But that cannot happen now Russia has quit the council, just as the United States did in 2018 over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform."

Gennady Gatilov, Russia's permanent representative to the U.N. office in Geneva, called the resolution "a U.S. attempt to subjugate various spheres of interaction between states in the international arena, including the U.N. human rights mechanisms," and claimed its adoption "discredits the U.N. Human Rights Council, inflicts irreparable damage to its reputation, and undermines its credibility."

Striking a similar tone on Twitter, Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia's deputy permanent representative to the U.N., pointed to former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks when the United States withdrew from the HRC under former President Donald Trump in 2018.

Polyanskiy directed his tweets at the ambassadors from the United Kingdom and the United States—which returned to the HRC in October, under President Joe Biden. The U.S. leader on Thursday applauded the UNGA vote as "a meaningful step by the international community further demonstrating how Putin's war has made Russia an international pariah."

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Thursday was "an important and historic day," and that countries from across the globe "have collectively sent a clear message that Russia will be held accountable."

"Despite Russia's attempt to spread disinformation, we all saw the gruesome images from Bucha, Dymerka, Irpin, and other recently liberated Ukrainian cities," Thomas-Greenfield continued. "Mass graves. Burnt bodies. Executions."

"We have seen credible reports of landmines and booby traps left behind by Putin's forces to injure even more civilians after Russia failed in its objectives and withdrew," she added. "I shudder to think of what we will find in other towns across Ukraine in the weeks ahead."

The HRC showdown came as Amnesty International demanded thorough independent investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings of Ukrainian civilians in the Kyiv area by Russian forces. Agnès Callamard, the group's secretary general, highlighted that "the intentional killing of civilians is a human rights violation and a war crime."

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