UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body over allegations that Russian soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations that the United States and Ukraine have called war crimes.
It was a rare, if not unprecedented rebuke against one of the five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the vote “a historic moment,” telling the assembly: “We have collectively sent a strong message that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored” and that Russia must be held accountable “for this unprovoked, unjust, unconscionable war.”
Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos showing streets in the town of Bucha on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, strewn with the bodies of civilians after Russian soldiers retreated. The deaths have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied its troops were responsible.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council is tasked with spotlighting and approving investigations of rights violations, and it does periodic reviews of the human rights situation in all 193 U.N. member nations.
It has created commissions of inquiry — which provide its highest level of scrutiny on alleged rights violations and abuses — for conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere. It has also set up fact-finding missions in places like Libya, Myanmar and Venezuela.
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already withdrawn from the council before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result. By withdrawing, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.
Kuzmin said Russia considers adoption of the resolution “an illegitimate and politically motivated step” by a group of countries with “short-term political and economic interests” that he accused of “blatant and massive violations of human rights.”
The 47-member Human Right Council was created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ poor rights records. The new council soon faced similar criticism, including that rights abusers sought seats to protect themselves and their allies, and for focusing on Israel.
While almost half the U.N.’s 193 member nations supported the resolution, more than half either voted against it, abstained or didn’t vote.
Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries called it premature, noting there are ongoing investigations into whether war crimes have occurred, or said it would undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Others said the resolution reflected American and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents called Western hypocrisy and selective outrage about human rights.