Russia has been suspended from the United Nations’ leading human rights body as its invasion of Ukraine continues to provoke revulsion and outrage around the world.
At a meeting of the UN general assembly on Thursday, 93 members voted in favour of the diplomatic rebuke while 24 were against and 58 abstained.
This met the required threshold of a two-thirds majority of the assembly members that vote yes or no, with abstentions not counting in the calculation.
“War criminals have no place in UN bodies aimed at protecting human rights,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted in response. “Grateful to all member states which … chose the right side of history.”
The US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had launched the effort to suspend Russia from the 47-member human rights council with the world still recoiling from images of mass graves and corpses strewn in the streets of Bucha following Russian soldiers’ retreat.
Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN ambassador, introducing the resolution before the 193 members of the general assembly, said Russia has committed “horrific human rights violations and abuses that would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
Kyslytsya added: “Russia’s actions are beyond the pale. Russia is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security.”
Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, urged members to vote against the resolution. “What we’re seeing today is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and total control,” he said. “We reject the untruthful allegations against us, based on staged events and widely circulated fakes.”
Kyslytsya responded to Russia’s complaints about the proceeding, saying: “We have heard, many times, the same perverted logic of the aggressor trying to present itself as the victim.”
Among countries voting against the resolution were China, an ally of Moscow that has declined to criticise the invasion, Iran, the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and communist Cuba, as well as Belarus, Syria and Russia itself.
The 58 nations that abstained included Brazil, India, Mexico, Senegal and South Africa, with many urging diplomacy instead. TS Tirumurti, India’s ambassador, said: “When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option.”
Russian forces have been accused of multiple war crimes since the invasion of neighbouring Ukraine on 24 February. They include indiscriminate bombing, rape, torture and summary executions. Chuck Schumer, the US Senate majority leader, has accused Russia of committing “genocide”.
Russia is the first permanent member of the UN security council to have its membership revoked from any UN body.
It is also only the second country to have its membership rights stripped at the human rights council, which was established in 2006. The assembly suspended Libya in 2011 when upheaval in the north African country toppled its longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The human rights council is based in Geneva and its members are elected by the 193-nation general assembly in New York 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”.
Thursday’s resolution expressed “grave 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”.
Thomas-Greenfield wrote on Twitter: “An important and historic day. Countries from around the globe have voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. We have collectively sent a clear message that Russia will be held accountable.”
Kuzmin of Russia described its adoption as an “illegitimate and politically motivated step with the aim of demonstrably punishing a sovereign member state of the UN conducing an independent domestic and foreign policy”.
He said Russia had decided to give up its membership of the council with immediate effect.
James Roscoe, the UK ambassador to the UN general assembly, raised a point of order and observed: “That sounds like someone that’s just been fired tendering their resignation.”