The UN General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the global body’s Human Rights Council as punishment for the 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.
Of the 193 members of the 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 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.”
But US President Joe Biden’s top diplomat said Moscow got what it deserved.
“Today, a wrong was righted,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels, where he met foreign ministers from NATO and said Russia was carrying out “atrocities” in Ukraine.
“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,” he said.
Countries voting against included China, a Moscow ally which 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.
– ‘Held accountable’ –
The UN Human Rights Council was founded in 2006 and is composed of 47 member states chosen by the General Assembly.
Washington argues that the punishment — suspending Russia from the Geneva-based organization that is the United Nations’ main human rights monitor — is more than symbolic and in fact intensifies Russia’s isolation after the assault on Ukraine that began February 24.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr 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 has a veto.
But the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, hailed the vote in New York as an “important and historic day.”
“We have collectively sent a clear message that Russia will be held accountable,” she said on Twitter.
More than 11 million people have been displaced since Russia launched an invasion of its West-leaning neighbor.
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 Russia.
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.”