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UN votes to remove Russia from Human Rights Council

WASHINGTON — The United Nations suspended Russia from its seat on the Human Rights Council on Thursday as the world calls out atrocities committed in Ukraine.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield introduced the proposal earlier in the week following accusations that Russian troops tortured and killed Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, a suburb near Kyiv.

The bodies were discovered after Moscow withdrew its troops from Bucha. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the aftermath, which he saw firsthand on Monday, as a “genocide” and accused Russia of war crimes. The Kremlin has previously described its military actions in Ukraine as a “special operation” and has denied targeting civilians.

Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, speaks at a meeting of the UN Security Council on threats to international peace and security, March 18, 2022, in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images

Thomas-Greenfield said Tuesday that Russia’s membership on the council hurts its credibility, “undermines the entire U.N. and it is just plain wrong.”

The resolution to strip Russia of its seat on the Human Rights Council passed with 93 votes in favor, 24 against and 58 abstentions.

Belarus, China, Iran, Russia and Syria were among the U.N. members that voted against the resolution. India abstained from voting.

Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which are expected to uphold high human rights standards, are elected to serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate reelection after two consecutive terms.

Libya is the only country to be suspended from the 47-member Geneva-based council. The North African country was suspended in 2011 after a violent crackdown against protesters by forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Ahead of the vote, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya galvanized members to take the “obvious and self-explanatory” move to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in New York City, U.S., March 4, 2022.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

“Bucha and dozens of other Ukrainian cities and villages, where thousands of peaceful residents have been killed, tortured, raped, abducted and robbed by the Russian army, serve as an example of how dramatically far the Russian Federation has gone from its initial declarations in the Human Rights domain,” Kyslytsya said before the United Nations.

He urged countries to not be “indifferent bystanders,” adding that a no vote “means pulling a trigger” and siding with Russia.

On Tuesday, Zelenskyy called for a Nuremberg-style tribunal to investigate and prosecute Russian war crimes.

“The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice immediately for war crimes in Ukraine,” he said in his nearly 20-minute speech before the United Nations Security Council.

Zelenskyy’s appearance before the international body followed Ukrainian claims that at least 300 civilians were tortured and killed in Bucha by Russian troops.

Over the weekend, the Russian invasion sparked renewed global outrage as horrific images emerged of bodies scattered across the streets, some with their hands tied and gunshot wounds to the back of the head.

On Tuesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is working with the U.N.’s International Criminal Court to investigate Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

“Targeting and murdering civilians is a war crime. All the facts must be established and all those responsible for these atrocities must be brought to justice,” the alliance chief said Tuesay.

Stoltenberg, who briefed reporters from NATO’s headquarters ahead of a two-day foreign ministers’ meeting, said the alliance had reliable evidence of war crimes committed in Bucha, along with other cities in Ukraine.

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