UN human rights vote highlights sharp global split over Russia’s actions in Ukraine

Thursday’s vote by the UN General Assembly to exclude Russia from the human rights council under this body redefined the global order in a way that seemed far beyond accusations of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.

On the one hand, 95 countries – just over half of the UN members, but enough to reach the required two-thirds of those who voted – supported the resolution, which was supported by the United States and dozens of others. The total number included members of NATO and the European Union, some small island nations of the Pacific and most of Latin America.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “the international community has taken one collective step in the right direction.” Calling the vote “an important and historic moment”, she said it “sends a strong signal that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored”.

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But the total has fallen sharply from 141 who voted for optional General Assembly measures last month condemning Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine.

On the other hand, the 24 countries that opposed the action on Thursday – up from five last month – are China, Iran, Vietnam, Algeria, Ethiopia, much of Central Asia and Cuba, all of which abstained earlier.

“We strongly oppose the politicization of human rights and double standards,” he said. Introduced a few days after images of civilians were killed on the streets of Kiev’s suburb of Bucha after the withdrawal of Russian troops, the suspension resolution “was not drafted openly and transparently,” he said, and “forces countries to choose sides.”

The most striking was that on Thursday 58 those who refused to choose a side abstained, which, according to some, would undermine the UN system itself. They include all but a handful of African countries and the entire Persian Gulf. Many of those who abstained strongly condemned what was happening in Ukraine, and did not seem to doubt who was to blame.

But most expressed concern about the decision on the issue, despite credulous and horrific allegations of torture and premeditated killings of civilians before the allegations were fully investigated by the UN and other investigations already under way. this.

Singapore, which last month voted in favor of the conviction and whose prime minister visited with President Biden last week at the White House, said he was “seriously concerned and upset” by the latest reports and images from Bucha. But he explained his abstention on Thursday with support for the “Independent International Commission of Inquiry”, which the Human Rights Council has already set up to investigate alleged human rights abuses, and called on all countries to co-operate with it.

Some abstained, many with their own human rights concerns, arguing that the suspension vote set a bad precedent and would have exacerbated an already bad situation. Saudi Arabia, which backed the resolution last month, called the Russians’ suspension an “escalation step” and “a form of politicization of the council’s work …” [countries] more rights than others. ”

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Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, called the resolution “human rights colonialism” and “an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominance and total control over international relations” at the expense of smaller states.

“Today is not the time or place for theaters and this kind of extremely theatrical productions,” which are “irrelevant to the real situation on the ground” in Ukraine, Kuzmin said. He urged members to “really reconsider your decision and vote against the West’s attempt … to destroy [U.N.’s] human rights architecture ”.

This architecture, centered on the Human Rights Council, has historically been one of the most problematic buildings in the UN system, which has long been accused of pressuring to take a side that some have accused at the heart of the suspension vote.

Established in 2006, it replaced the Commission on Human Rights, one of the founders established by the UN Charter after World War II. One of the first tasks of the commissions was to establish the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But at the turn of the century, the commission lost its reputation, was accused of bias, and included many alleged violators of rights and procedures, which often turned into fingerprints and shouts.

The newly created council was designed to address these issues. Its 47 members are elected by regional groups of nations and approved by the General Assembly for a three-year term, with no member serving more than two consecutive terms. At meetings several times a year, it is called upon to closely coordinate its work on monitoring and promoting respect for human rights and humanitarian law with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The resolution establishing the council obliges all members to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” It includes a paragraph describing the suspension procedure for any member who “commits gross and systematic violations” of such rights, a provision used in 2011 to suspend Libya following the brutal crackdown on Maamar Gaddafi against anti-government protesters.

Libya’s suspension has raised persistent questions about the same problems that plagued the commission – most notably the presence of alleged violators on the council.

Many smaller and less powerful countries believe the council gives them a way out against larger powers such as the United States. For a number of U.S. administrations, this has led to outrage over repeated votes against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and a reluctance to criticize countries opposed by the United States.

In 2018, President Donald Trump, as part of his broader efforts to separate the United States from international institutions, left the council to protest his condemnation of Israel and his inability to criticize countries for American kindness.

The Biden administration re-entered the council last year, arguing, like a number of its predecessors, that the United States could have more influence inside than outside the organization. The current membership, even without Russia, includes a number of troubled countries identified by the United States, including Eritrea, Cuba and China.

“Today it was Russia, but tomorrow it could be any of our members,” said a Cuban spokesman, speaking out against the suspension. “Can this Assembly ever pass a resolution suspending the membership of the United States in the Human Rights Council? We all know this has not happened and will not happen, ”despite US invasions and sanctions over the years.

Brazil, which abstained, said various investigations should be allowed to complete. “Only then will this General Assembly be able to better assess Russia’s alleged crimes,” the Brazilian delegate said. “We must at all costs avoid repeating the mistakes of the old commission.”

When the vote was over, Russia again asked to say that it did not want to be a member of a council that was “actually monopolized by one group of states that use it for their own short-term purposes” and had already resigned. This sparked calls from the UK, whose delegate said it “looks like someone just fired is resigning”.

Seeing the silver, the British diplomat noted that while the suspension will keep the seat open, the recall will lead to new elections for the Eastern European regional group and will take the place of a new member “who will truly promote human rights.” ”

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