The UN General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the global body’s Human Rights Council as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.
The high-profile rebuke of Moscow marked only the second ever suspension of a country from the council — Libya was the first, in 2011 — and it earned praise from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and his American counterpart Joe Biden.
The expulsion confirmed Moscow as an “international pariah,” Biden said in a searing statement that addressed what he called “horrifying” images from Ukrainian towns like Bucha, where Russian forces are accused of atrocities against civilians.
“Russia’s lies are no match for the undeniable evidence of what is happening in Ukraine,” Biden said.
“The signs of people being raped, tortured, executed — in some cases having their bodies desecrated — are an outrage to our common humanity.”
Zelensky, who has longed called for a tougher international position against Moscow, applauded the UN move as “an important step,” describing it on Twitter as “another punishment for RF’s (Russia’s) aggression” against Ukraine.
Of the 193 members of the General Assembly, 93 voted in favor of suspension as proposed by the United States, while 24 voted against. Fifty-eight abstained and the remainder did not participate, suggesting a weakening international unity against Russia at the United Nations.
Suspension required support from two-thirds of the member countries casting votes for or against; the abstentions and absences did not count.
Russia swiftly rejected the suspension, with its foreign ministry blasting the move as “illegal and politically motivated, aimed at ostentatiously punishing a sovereign UN member state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy.”
Biden’s top diplomat said Moscow got what it deserved.
“A country that is perpetrating gross and systematic violations of human rights should not sit on a body whose job it is to protect those rights,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels.
Countries voting against included China, a Moscow ally that has steadfastly abstained from criticizing the invasion. Others were Iran, the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and communist Cuba, as well as Russia itself, Belarus and Syria.
Despite pressure from Moscow for a no vote, several African countries only abstained, such as South Africa and Senegal. Also abstaining were Brazil, Mexico and India.
The UN Human Rights Council was founded in 2006 and is composed of 47 member states chosen by the General Assembly.
Washington argues that suspending Russia from the Geneva-based organization that is the UN’s main human rights monitor is more than symbolic, and in fact intensifies Russia’s isolation after the assault on Ukraine that began February 24.
Zelensky has also called for Russia to be expelled from the UN Security Council “so it cannot block decisions about its own aggression, its own war.”
Washington has admitted there is little anyone can do about Russia’s position on the Security Council, where it holds veto power.
The world has been outraged by images of civilians apparently executed and left in the streets or buried in mass graves in areas formerly controlled by Russian troops. The carnage has led to new rounds of sanctions against Moscow.
Journalists including from AFP last weekend found corpses in civilian clothes, some with their hands bound, in the town of Bucha outside the capital Kyiv.
The Kremlin has denied Russian forces killed civilians, and alleged that the images of dead bodies in Bucha were “fakes.”
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