Russia suspended from UNHRC, India abstains

Updated on Apr 08, 2022 07:12 AM IST

In a diplomatic win for the United States (US)-led western coalition and Ukraine, which had been pushing for the suspension, 93 countries voted to suspend Russia, 58 abstained, and 24 voted against suspending Russia.

Refugees from Ukraine are seen at the Polish/Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka on April 7, 2022.(AFP)
Refugees from Ukraine are seen at the Polish/Ukrainian border crossing in Medyka on April 7, 2022.(AFP)

Triggered by the allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, particularly the reports of civilian killings and mass graves in Bucha, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to suspend Russia from rights of its membership of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday. In a diplomatic win for the United States (US)-led western coalition and Ukraine, which had been pushing for the suspension, 93 countries voted to suspend Russia, 58 abstained, and 24 voted against suspending Russia.

India abstained on the resolution and said it was doing so for both reasons of “substance and process” — but termed reports of civilian killings in Bucha “deeply disturbing”. “We have unequivocally condemned these killings and support the call for an independent investigation,” India said in its explanation of the vote.

Speaking at the emergency UNGA session — the third on Ukraine in just over a month — Indian permanent representative to the UN, TS Tirumurti, said that since the inception of the conflict in Ukraine, India stood for “peace, dialogue and diplomacy”. “We believe that no solution can be arrived at by shedding blood and at the cost of innocent lives. If India has chosen any side, it is the side of peace and it is for an immediate end to violence,” he said.

Tirumurti pointed out that the impact of the crisis had been felt beyond the region, with increasing food and energy costs, especially for developing countries, and that it was in everyone’s collective interest to work constructively, within the UN and outside, towards seeking an early resolution to the conflict.

The resolution was championed by the US, which termed Russia’s continuation in the 47-member Council a “farce”.
The resolution was championed by the US, which termed Russia’s continuation in the 47-member Council a “farce”.

“India has been at the forefront of protecting human rights, right from the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We firmly believe that all decisions should be taken fully respecting due process, as all our democratic polity and structures enjoin us to do. This applies to international organisations as well, particularly the United Nations,” he added.

The resolution was championed by the US, which termed Russia’s continuation in the 47-member Council a “farce”. Russia, in turn, accused the US of using “human rights colonialism” in international relations. The resolution needed the support of two-thirds of the voting members, with abstentions not being counted. After Thursday’s vote, Russia will remain a member of the 47-member HRC, but will not be able to exercise its rights as a member to speak or vote. The Council has already begun investigations on Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Soon after the suspension was announced, Russia said it considers the move to be “illegal”. In a statement, the foreign ministry said that the vote at the UNGA session was “illegal and politically motivated, aimed at ostentatiously punishing a sovereign UN member state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy”, AFP reported.

India’s stance is a continuation of its balancing act but observers see an evolution in its position. After Bucha, for the first time, India condemned an act of killing in Ukraine that is alleged to have been committed by Russian forces, and backed an independent probe. Moscow had sought support rather than an abstention on Thursday’s resolution. But while sending a signal to Moscow with its statement of condemnation and its abstention of vote, India also — for the first time — flagged substantive and procedural issues with a West-backed resolution and the need for more democratic process.

In a clear signal of its continued support for Moscow, and what analysts see as concern over a precedent being set on human rights issues, China backed Russia’s continuation in the Human Rights Council. All other South Asian countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan — abstained on the resolution.

Commenting on the significance of the vote, Ashish Pradhan, a UN analyst with the research and advocacy outfit, International Crisis Group, said that Thursday’s vote was the latest indication of Russia’s “pariah status” on the international stage, adding that Moscow would no longer be able to shield its allies that were criticised for their own human rights abuses at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

But Pradhan pointed out that the vote to suspend Russia, unlike two earlier votes on resolutions in the Assembly which condemned Russian aggression and had mustered the support of 140 member-states, indicated a new, more difficult phase in international diplomacy. “It potentially shifts UN diplomacy into a new phase as the cross-regional support secured in the past two UNGA resolutions was eroded with most Asian, African, and Arab members abstaining. India explained its abstention by pointing to substantive disagreements within the text and about the lack of due process. It signalled displeasure at a lack of outreach and consultation by the resolution’s proponents.”

The western bloc moved on the resolution after the Bucha killings triggered outrage over alleged Russian actions. But the erosion in the number of countries willing to vote against Russia at the Assembly, and complaints about the process, stem from a sense among developing countries that western bloc was unilaterally putting together a text, with little input from others, and then lobbying to secure the support of other countries — while ignoring their more pressing concerns.

“Western members should use the UNGA as a forum to maintain some cross-regional consensus by now prioritising issues like addressing the spiking food and commodity prices around the globe which will resonate with many of the members who decided not to back today’s text,” Pradhan said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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