Russia isn't the only country to be removed from UN Human Rights Council: How does a suspension work and why it's significant


In a big blow to Russia, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to suspend Moscow from the world organisation’s leading human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), over allegations that its soldiers in Ukraine engaged in rights violations.

US 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”, according to a report by the Associated Press.

What is the UNHRC?

First off, let’s understand the role of the world organisation’s leading human rights body and how it functions.

The UNHRC is defined as an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, which is responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

The Council also investigates allegations of breaches of human rights in United Nations member states and addresses thematic human rights issues.

The Council was established by the United Nations General Assembly on 15 March 2006to replace the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The UNHRC has 47 Member States, who serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

Currently, Federico Villegas from Argentina is the president of the body. He was elected president of the Human Rights Council for 2022 in December 2021.

How is a country removed from UNHRC?

As per the rules, the UNGA can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership.

To suspend a member, one needs a two-thirds majority vote by the General Assembly.

But, why was Russia suspended?

The resolution to suspend Russia was first moved by the United States over Moscow's military aggression in the east European nation.

The resolution titled ‘Suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council’. It expressed grave concern regarding reports of gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law committed by Russia during its aggression against Ukraine.

US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from the UN 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.

How did the nations vote in the Russia case?

On Thursday, in the 193-member UNGA, 93 nations voted in favour of the resolution, while 24 were against it. Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, were among those who voted against.

Fifty-eight, including India, abstained from the process.

India’s abstention from the vote has been in line with its neutral stance on the war, ever since it broke out 44 days ago.

India's Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T S Tirumurti asserted that if it has “chosen” any side, it is the side of “peace and it is for an immediate end to violence”.

“India has abstained on the resolution with regard to suspension of the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council adopted in the General Assembly today. We do so for reasons of both substance and process,” he said in the Explanation of Vote after the voting.

“Since the inception of the Ukrainian conflict, India has stood for peace, dialogue and diplomacy. We believe that no solution can be arrived at by shedding blood and at the cost of innocent lives. If India has chosen any side, it is the side of peace and it is for an immediate end to violence,” he added.

Since January this year, India has abstained on at least eight occasions on procedural votes and draft resolutions in the UN Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council that deplored Russian aggression against Ukraine.

New Delhi had on Tuesday unequivocally condemned the deeply disturbing reports of civilian killings in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and supported the call for an independent investigation, as it underlined that when innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option.

Tirumurti said India continues to remain deeply concerned at the worsening situation and reiterates its call for end to all hostilities. When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option, he said. He reiterated that recent reports of civilian killings in Bucha are deeply disturbing.

"We have unequivocally condemned these killings and support the call for an independent investigation," he said.

Has any other country been suspended?

Russia isn’t the only country that has been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council. In March 2011, the UN General Assembly suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council using the provisions of resolution 60/251. The move was in response to the crackdown on anti-government protests by the Moammar Gaddafi government.

How did countries react?

Ukraine's representative to the UN said the suspension of rights of membership of Russian Federation was not an option, but a duty.

The US welcomed the move, with President Joe Biden describing it as a meaningful step by the international community.

“This is a meaningful step by the international community further demonstrating how Putin's war has made Russia an international pariah, Biden said.

On Russia's suspension from UNHRC, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken, in a separate statement, said a wrong has been righted.

"Today a wrong has been righted. The world is sending another clear signal that Russia must immediately and unconditionally cease its war of aggression against Ukraine and honour the principles enshrined in the UN Charter," Blinken said after the UNGA suspended Russia from UNHRC.

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.”

For the European Union (EU), the scale and gravity of Russia’s violations in Ukraine, and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, call for a strong, united international response.

“The rare decision this Assembly has taken today sends a strong signal of accountability and hopefully will help preventing and discouraging more violations of human rights,” said Ambassador Olaf Skoog, head of the EU delegation.

How does this affect Russia?

Russia’s removal from the UNHRC is significant in symbolic terms. It shows that the West and its allies are against Moscow’s war of Ukraine and helps to isolate the country on a global stage.

As Biden and the European Union stated, the suspension gives a clear message to the Vladimir Putin-led country that its actions in Ukraine don’t have any merit.

The suspension is the latest in measures adopted by the West and its allies against Russia. A large number of sanctions, including against Vladimir Putin’s daughters, have already put Moscow on the backfoot.

Moreover, the EU on Thursday said it had approved an embargo on Russian coal and the closing of the bloc's ports to Russian vessels over the Ukraine war.

An official from the French presidency of the European Council said the moves spearhead a "very substantial" fifth round of sanctions against Moscow.

With inputs from agencies

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Russia isn't the only country to be removed from UN Human Rights Council: How does a suspension work and why it's significant
Russia isn't the only country to be removed from UN Human Rights Council: How does a suspension work and why it's significant
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