Russia quits UNHRC after being suspended with Israel's support

Russia's deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin described the move as an 'illegitimate and politically motivated step,' and then announced that Russia had decided to quit the Human Rights Council.

A UN 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 UN 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)

Moscow withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council after 93 nations, including Israel, supported a General Assembly resolution to suspend its council membership as a protest statement against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia had warned countries that a yes vote or abstention will be viewed as an “unfriendly gesture” with consequences for bilateral ties, according to a note seen by Reuters.

There were 24 nations, including Iran and China, which opposed Russia’s suspension and another 58 countries abstained from the vote.

Speaking after the vote in New York, Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin described the move as an “illegitimate and politically motivated step” and then announced that his country had decided to quit the Human Rights Council altogether.

“You do not submit your resignation after you are fired,” Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told reporters.

 A screen with the result of a vote is pictured during the special session on the situation in Ukraine of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE) A screen with the result of a vote is pictured during the special session on the situation in Ukraine of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

The council was “monopolized by a single group of states that exploits the mechanism to achieve their opportunistic goals,” Kuzmin said. “Despite their status as HRC members, they are not ready to give up their egoistic political and economic interests in order to promote real stabilization of the human rights situation in concrete states.

“Such action infringes the mandate that the international community entrusted to the HRC and undermines the overall confidence in this body,” he said.

Russia was in the second year of a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council based in Geneva, whose membership is determined by a vote of the 193-member General Assembly in New York.

Under Thursday’s resolution, the GA could have later agreed to end the suspension, but that cannot happen now. Suspensions are rare and last occurred in 2011, when Libya was removed from the council because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

UNITED STATES Ambassador to the UN in New York Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia’s suspension for its “gross and systematic violations of human rights” was an “important and historic moment.”

The UN, she said, has “collectively sent a strong message that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored.”

The US-backed resolution suspending Russia from the UNHRC was not just about “accountability,” the ambassador said. “It’s about standing with the people of Ukraine – and it’s about the credibility of the UN.

“Right now, the world is looking to us; they are asking if the United Nations is prepared to meet this moment. They are wondering if we are a platform for propaganda and a safe haven for human rights abusers – or if we are prepared to live up to our highest ideals, enshrined in the UN Charter,” Thomas-Greenfield explained.

“Today, the international community took one collective step in the right direction,” she said. “We ensured a persistent and egregious human rights violator will not be allowed to occupy a position of leadership on human rights at the UN. Let us continue to hold Russia accountable for this unprovoked, unjust, unconscionable war –and to do everything in our power to stand with the people of Ukraine.”

The US began its three-year term on the council this year, after rejoining it last year. The former Trump administration had quit the council in 2018, arguing that it was a haven for human rights abusers and that it was biased against Israel.

China, which has forcibly imprisoned over a million Muslim Uyghurs in internment camps, also holds a seat on the UNHRC.

At its last session in March, the council issued four resolutions against Israel, more than against any other country.

AFTER THURSDAY’S vote Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke from Jerusalem about Israel’s continued opposition to the UNHRC in its current form.

“The vote today does not change our position on the UN Human Rights Council, which is an extremist, morally flawed, biased and essentially anti-Israel body that has been exploited since its inception by the main countries violating human rights in the world as a political tool, including to attack Israel.”

At the UNGA in New York, Israel’s Deputy Ambassador Noa Furman also addressed the issue of UNHRC bias.

“The Human Rights Council is the clearest example of bias and discrimination in the UN system,” Furman said. “The council has passed more resolutions targeting Israel than those on Syria, Iran and North Korea combined. Israel is the only country with a standing agenda item – Item 7 – ensuring that Israel is singled out at every meeting.

“Israel condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” she said. “There is no justification for violating Ukrainian sovereignty and killing innocent civilians. We utterly condemn these actions. In this context, Israel chose to vote yes on the resolution adopted today.”

Israel, however, did not join the over 60 nations that co-sponsored the resolution, because it did not want to take any step that would legitimize the UNHRC.

It did, however, co-sponsor the two-other UNGA resolutions that condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which passed with a much larger majority of 140 and 141 votes.

Ukrainian Ambassador Kyslytsya told the UNGA that “the world has never needed a strong United Nations more than it needs one today.

“Now the world has come to a critical juncture.” he said. “We witness that our [ocean] liner is going through treacherous fogs toward deadly icebergs. It might seem that we should have named it the Titanic instead of the Human Rights Council. If not, we need to take action today – to save the HRC from sinking.”

The United States and Ukraine have turned to the General Assembly since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, given that Russia’s role in the UN Security Council prevents that body from taking any global action in support of Ukraine.

Russia is one of five permanent UNSC members on the 15-member council having veto power – along with the United States, Great Britain, France and China.

Reuters contributed to this report.