Europeans have shown unity and decisiveness in taking action to shelter Ukrainian refugees. But as the humanitarian crisis unravels, long-term solutions will require policies that promote collaboration and distributed leadership.
On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted on a resolution to suspend Russia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). 93 States voted in favour of the resolution, reaching the two-thirds majority needed for such a move, while 24 States voted against it and 58 States abstained.
“This sends a powerful message that the Human Rights Council is no place for States that are perpetrating massive human rights violations, including acts that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said ISHR Executive Director Phil Lynch. “The atrocities reported in Bucha, the countless accounts of abuses across Ukraine, as well as the Russian government’s crackdown on dissent at home: all of these can and must now be investigated in detail by the international community, including the Human Rights Council,” he added.
The suspension comes amid the continued coverage of numerous reports of large-scale atrocities, including the alleged indiscriminate murder of civilians, committed by the Russian army as they retreated from the region around Kyiv. Civil society actors and allies have been pushing for Russia’s suspension from the HRC since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This is just the second time a sitting member of the Human Rights Council has been suspended from the body following a vote by the General Assembly: in March 2011, the UNGA voted to suspend Libya’s membership in the wake of its government’s brutal crackdown of opposition protesters under then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
“The General Assembly has taken a decisive stand to publicly reprimand a permanent member of the UN Security Council for their actions,” said Madeleine Sinclair, Co-Director of ISHR’s New York office. “This strengthens both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council by setting a clear precedent: even the most powerful States and governments can be held accountable by the international community through transparent processes held in legitimate multilateral bodies,” she highlighted.
This is the third time Russia has been condemned by the UN General Assembly since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine: the first, on 2 March, saw 141 countries demand that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its troops, while the second, on 24 March, saw 140 States back a resolution recognising the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
Speaking in advance of the vote, ISHR partner and head of the Ukraine Centre for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Matviychuk, said, “Russia’s war against Ukraine has destroyed the international system of peace and security. This war causes daily pain, suffering and death to civilians, as Russia commits war crimes as a method of warfare. Against this background, Russia’s participation in the Human Rights Council looks like an evil mockery and undermines the trust of people around the world in the UN.”
Rules regarding the suspension of a member of the UN Human Rights Council are set in OP8 of General Assembly resolution 60/251. Since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, ISHR and civil society partners have pushed for the Russian government to be suspended from the Council and to be held accountable for its actions. In light of its violations in Ukraine and repression of civil society at home, ISHR and partners are also campaigning to ensure that Russia is not elected to a vital UN body, the Committee on NGOs, which regulates civil society access and participation at the UN.
Human rights inspire hope. In January 2022, we asked you to share some of the human rights stories and successes that inspire you. Thanks for being both courageous and vulnerable in sharing them!
Here at ISHR we have a custom of starting all staff meetings by sharing our inspirations. The inspiration might be something deeply personal, like the resilience of a loved one recovering from illness, something local, like the renaming of a Geneva street to honour a feminist activist, or something work-related, like the release of a human rights defender from arbitrary detention following a concerted global campaign.