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UN Rejects Russia's Bid to Return to Human Rights Council

By Vusala Abbasova October 12, 2023

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In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” and “violations of international humanitarian law” by Russian troops in Ukraine. / Bryan R Smith / AFP

Russia's bid for re-election to the United Nations' top human rights body faced a setback after its expulsion last April due to the invasion of Ukraine.

Competing against Bulgaria and Albania for the two Eastern European seats, Russia fell short in the secret ballot vote. Bulgaria garnered 160 votes, Albania received 123, while Russia only managed 83.

In 2022, the United Nations General Assembly suspended Russia from the UN Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” and “violations of international humanitarian law” by Russian troops in Ukraine.

Back then, a total of 93 members backed the resolution on the suspension of Russia’s membership in the UN human rights body, while 24 voted against it and 58 abstained.

The proposal, introduced by the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, came after reports of atrocities that emerged on the outskirts of Ukraine’s capital. Bodies of Ukrainian civilians were discovered in the wake of Russia’s military retreat from the town of Bucha. The deaths sparked global outrage and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which vehemently denied its troops were responsible.

The Geneva-based inter-governmental body within the United Nations system consists of 47 members and is responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.

Russia joined the body in January 2021 as one of 15 countries elected by the General Assembly to serve three-year terms.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Gennady Kuzmin, described the resolution as “an illegitimate and politically motivated step.” Kuzmin said it served “as a demonstrative punishment of a sovereign UN member state with an independent domestic and foreign policy.”

The Russian invasion sparked renewed global outrage as shocking images from the Ukrainian town of Bucha showed the bodies of civilians with close-range gunshot wounds strewn along deserted streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs. Mass graves containing nearly 300 civilians were also found near the Ukrainian town of Bucha after Russian troops withdrew from the area. Ukraine and western leaders accused Moscow of war crimes.

On its part, Russia denied accusations, arguing that all photographs and footage showing dead bodies were “yet another provocation.”