Russia’s membership to the Human Rights Council (HRC), to which it was elected in 2020, was suspended on Thursday after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted, 93 to 24, with 58 abstentions, including India, to adopt a resolution suspending Moscow from the UN body.
The resolution, ‘Suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council’ , was proposed by a group of countries that included Ukraine, the U.S., the EU, several Latin American countries and required a two-thirds majority of those present and voting for adoption. Abstentions do not count in the tally of those ‘present and voting’. India abstained for reasons of “substance and process”, its Permanent Representative to the U.N. (UNPR), T.S. Tirumurti said.
“We firmly believe that all decisions should be taken fully respecting due process as all our democratic polity and structures enjoin us to do so. This applies to international organisations as well, particularly the United Nations,” Mr. Tirumurti said during his ‘Explanation of Vote’ speech at the UNGA. The U.S. , which has had uneven relationship with the HRC itself (having quit it under the Trump administration only to rejoin it last year) had been a driving force behind the resolution.
“If India has chosen any side, it is the side of peace. And it is for an immediate end to violence,” Mr. Tirumurti said, calling for diplomacy and reiterating India’s message to the UN Security council earlier this week: that the murder of civilians in the Bucha suburb of Kyiv was “deeply disturbing” and that India “unequivocally condemned” them. India, however, has refrained from blaming Russia for these murders.
The New York Times had reported earlier this week that its analysis of satellite images showed that the bodies of civlians, some with hands bound behind their backs, were present before the Russians withdrew from the area — and were not planted there - as Moscow has said — after Russian troops withdrew. The German government had satellite information implicating Russians in the killing of civilians in Bucha, Reuters reported. Moscow has denied that Russian troops were behind the deaths.
Mr. Tirumurti called for an early resolution of the conflict saying its impact was being felt beyond the region — such as via rising food and energy prices.
Thursday’s UNGA action was India’s third abstention on votes regarding the HRC. The first two abstentions were around the setting up of a Commission of Inquiry, on March 4, to look into violations of human rights and international law in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Thursday’s resolution sought the suspension of Russia from the HRC, and accused Moscow of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights”. The HRC is a UN body, comprising 47 states, that describes itself as “responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe”. Countries are elected for three-year terms.
Several countries opposed the resolution on the grounds that it had been put to vote before an independent inquiry had presented its findings. Some countries, like India, were of the view that adopting the resolution would violate due process and impact the credibility of the organisation. In addition to the Commission of Inquiry established on March 4, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, as well as various U.N. countries, including India, had called for an independent inquiry into the brutal killing of civilians in the Bucha suburb of Kyiv.
Speaking before the vote, South Africa’s UNPR said the draft resolution of Thursday was “premature and prejudges the outcomes of the commission of inquiry”. Brazil was also of the view that the inquiry must first be completed. Both countries abstained during the vote. Countries in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives — abstained. China, a member of the Council and itself accused of systematic and extensive abuses against its Uighur Muslim minority, voted against the resolution, citing, among its reasons, a lack of proper consultation prior to the vote and the risk that the move would exacerbate the conflict.
“The vote at the UNGA was difficult for India as it subverts and short circuits the whole Human Rights Council-led process,” former Indian UNPR Asoke Mukerji said, adding that India’s vote would not please either side of the conflict. “On the one hand its abstention would please neither Russia, nor would it suffice for the U.S., and on the other India will be asked to do more in terms of peace initiatives to end the Ukraine crisis.
(With inputs from Suhasini Haidar in New Delhi)