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New Delhi: India abstained as the United Nations General Assembly voted to expel Russia from the UN human rights body over alleged human rights violations by Russian security forces in Ukraine.
For the first time, one of the permanent members has lost its membership rights in a UN body.
This is only the second time the UNGA has suspended a country from the 47-member UN Human Rights Council after its formation in 2006. Eleven years ago, Libya was thrown out through a resolution adopted by UNGA through consensus.
Less than half the members of the UNGA voted in favour of the resolution, but it was enough to pass the resolution. As per the rules, a resolution must find support from two-thirds of those “present and voting”, with abstentions not counted as votes.
Describing the vote as a “historic and important day”, US envoy to UN Linda Thomas-Garfield said it “sent a clear message that Russia will be held accountable”.
An important and historic day.
Countries from around the globe have voted to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council.
We have collectively sent a clear message that Russia will be held accountable. https://t.co/jvVbWzv7Ys
— Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@USAmbUN) April 7, 2022
The Russian permanent mission to the UN tweeted that the adoption of the resolution was an “illegal and politically motivated step” to punish a country that pursues an independent foreign policy. It also announced that Russia was voluntarily “terminating” its membership in UNHRC with immediate effect.
— Russia at the United Nations (@RussiaUN) April 7, 2022
Russia was in its second year of a three-year term on the Geneva-based council, which cannot make legally binding decisions. However, its decisions send important political messages, and can authorise investigations.
Ahead of the vote, Russia had called upon all the countries to vote against the resolution. Moscow had previously been comfortable with abstentions on earlier resolutions, but had warned select countries this time that abstaining would be taken as an “unfriendly” act, as per media reports.
The resolution was passed with 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions.
India’s permanent representative to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, stated that India had abstained on the resolution “for reasons of both substance and process”.
He reiterated India’s condemnation of the civilian killing in Bucha and supported the call for an independent investigation.
Implying that the move to push out Russia from UNHRC did not follow due procedure, 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. This applies to international organisations as well, particularly the United Nations.”
India abstained on the UN General Assembly vote this morning. I made a statement of Explanation of Vote ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/d2jD83tLoK
— PR/Amb T S Tirumurti (@ambtstirumurti) April 7, 2022
China, which had abstained in the last two UNGA resolutions, cast a negative vote.
“Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among member states, intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned – it is like adding fuel to the fire,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said before the vote.
At the same time, several countries which had voted for the previous resolutions condemning Russia for aggression in Ukraine, like Brazil and Egypt, abstained. Even Mexico, co-author of the last UNGA resolution on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, abstained this time.
South Africa, which had floated an alternate Russia-backed draft resolution on Ukraine on March 24 much to the chagrin of the West, also abstained.
Most of them argued that the move to expel Russia would not contribute to reaching a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine war and would further escalate the polarisation in the international community.
From South Asia, seven countries abstained, while Afghanistan was absent during the voting process.
From Africa, Latin America and Asia, the proportion of ‘yes’ votes had dropped substantially compared to the previous resolution last month. Predictably, all Western European countries voted for the resolution.
According to UN observers, 39 countries who had voted ‘yes’ on March 24 changed their ballot to abstention on Thursday. A smaller number of 18 nations who had abstained last time joined the ‘no’ benches. Only one country, Gabon, a UNSC non-permanent member, had voted for the resolution last month, but abstained on Thursday.
Speaking before the vote, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said a yes vote would “save the Human Rights Council and many lives around the world and in Ukraine,” but a no vote was “pulling a trigger, and means a red dot on the screen – red as the blood of the innocent lives lost”.
Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin said now was not the time for “theatrical performances” and accused Western countries and allies of trying to “destroy existing human rights architecture”.
Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, 10 resolutions have been adopted by the UN General Assembly, Security Council and UNHRC, strongly deploring Russia’s actions. India has abstained on all of them.
The two previous General Assembly resolutions denouncing Russia were adopted with 141 and 140 votes in favour.
Over a decade ago, when the UNHRC recommended the suspension of Libya to the General Assembly, there had been no vote since the resolution was adopted by consensus. But India did make a statement.
India stated that it had noted the concerns of the UN high commissioner for human rights on violations in Libya, but asserted that the Council should not take a politicised decision. “The credibility and legitimacy of the Council will be enhanced when the council is seen to be dealing with similar situations in a similar manner, and not sacrificing concern for human rights at the altar of political expediency and strategic opportunism,” said India at UNHRC’s special session on February 25, 2011.
(With inputs from Reuters)