UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN General Assembly is voting Thursday on a US-initiated resolution to suspend Russia from the world organization’s leading human rights body over allegations that Russian soldiers killed civilians while retreating from the region around Ukraine’s capital.
US 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 deaths have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied its troops were responsible.
“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 the assembly’s emergency special session on Ukraine would resume Thursday morning, 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 rights council says 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 “serious 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.”
Approval would require a two-thirds majority of the assembly members that vote “yes” or “no,” with abstentions not counting in the calculation.
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 a March 2 resolution that 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 urged the 140 members who voted in favor of those two resolutions to support Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council.
She issue is simple, she said: “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 UN Human Rights Council,” she said.
Supporters of the resolution were optimistic about its approval, though not necessarily with the support of 140 countries.
Russia called on an unspecified number of countries to vote “no,” saying an abstention or not voting would be considered an unfriendly act and would affect bilateral relations.
In its so-called “non-paper” obtained by The Associated Press, Russia said the attempt to expel it from the Human Rights Council is political and being supported by countries that want to preserve their dominant position and control over the world.
Those nations want to continue “the politics of neo-colonialism of human rights” in international relations, it said, saying that Russia’s priority is to promote and defend human rights, including multilaterally in the Human Rights Council.
Russia’s ambassador in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, called the US action “unfounded and purely emotional bravado that looks good on camera — just how the US 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 UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, and the United States — all currently have seats on the Human Rights Council, which the US 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 UN body.