US pushes to suspend Russia from Human Rights Council

The last country that has been suspended from the Human Rights Council was Libya, in 2011, because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then leader Muammar Gaddafi.

 A U.N. security officer stands guard during the special session on the situation in Ukraine of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)
A U.N. security officer stands guard during the special session on the situation in Ukraine of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

The United States will ask the U.N. General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday, after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing dozens of civilians in the town of Bucha.

A two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member assembly in New York can suspend a state for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.

"Russia's participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on a visit to Romania.

"And it is wrong, which is why we believe it is time the UN General Assembly vote to remove them."

Thomas-Greenfield said she wants to have the vote this week.

 US AMBASSADOR to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a meeting last week of the General Assembly on the situation between Russia and Ukraine. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS) US AMBASSADOR to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a meeting last week of the General Assembly on the situation between Russia and Ukraine. (credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the Assembly has adopted two resolutions denouncing Russia with 140 votes in favor. Moscow says it is carrying out a "special operation" to demilitarize Ukraine.

"My message to those 140 countries who have courageously stood together is: the images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us to now match our words with action," Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on a visit to Romania.

Russia's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Gennady Gatilov said that such an initiative would be unlikely to enjoy majority support.

"Washington exploits the Ukraine crisis for its own benefit in an attempt either to exclude or suspend Russia from international organizations, including the Human Rights Council here in Geneva," Gatilov said.

Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member council, which cannot make legally binding decisions but its decisions send important political messages and it can authorize investigations.

Last month it opened an investigation into allegations of rights violations, including possible war crimes, in Ukraine since Russia's invasion. Thirty-two members voted in favor of the resolution, brought by Ukraine. Russia and Eritrea voted against while 13, including China, abstained.

Bucha's deputy mayor said around 50 bodies found after Russian forces withdrew were the victims of extra-judicial killings by Russian troops. 

Reuters was not able to independently verify who was responsible for killing those Bucha residents.

Ukrainian authorities said they were investigating possible war crimes there. The Kremlin denied accusations related to the murder of civilians in the town.

The United States has said war crimes have been committed in Ukraine and U.S. experts were gathering evidence to prove it.

The General Assembly has previously suspended a country from the council. In March 2011, it unanimously suspended Libya because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then leader Muammar Gaddafi.