India on Thursday abstained on a crucial vote to suspend Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, from the world organisation's leading human rights body, asserting that if New Delhi has "chosen" any side, it is the side of "peace and it is for an immediate end to violence."
The 193-member UN General Assembly voted to adopt a draft resolution moved by the US to suspend Russia from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council over allegations that Russian soldiers killed civilians while retreating from towns near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
The resolution titled ‘Suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council’ was adopted with 93 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions. Those abstaining included Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and UAE.
No permanent member of the UN Security Council has ever had its membership revoked from any organ of the world body.
The UNHRC is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world.
“India has abstained on the resolution with regard to suspension of the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council adopted in the General Assembly today. We do so for reasons of both substance and process,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti said in the Explanation of Vote after the voting.
“Since the inception of the Ukrainian conflict, India has 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 said the impact of the crisis has also been felt beyond the region with increasing food and energy costs, especially for many developing countries.
Since January this year, India has abstained on at least eight occasions on procedural votes and draft resolutions in the UN Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council that deplored Russian aggression against Ukraine.
New Delhi had on Tuesday unequivocally condemned the “deeply disturbing” reports of civilian killings in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and supported the call for an independent investigation, as it underlined that when innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option.
Tirumurti said India continues to remain deeply concerned at the worsening situation and reiterates its call for end to all hostilities. “When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option,” he said. He reiterated that recent reports of civilian killings in Bucha are deeply disturbing.
“We have unequivocally condemned these killings and support the call for an independent investigation,” he said.
The General Assembly resumed its Emergency Special Session after a request from Antigua and Barbuda, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Georgia, Japan, Liberia, Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, the UK, the US and the Head of the Delegation of the European Union, on behalf of 27 members of the European Union.
The Human Rights Council consists of 47 Member States, elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly.
The General Assembly, by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting, “may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.” Abstentions do not count and the resolution requires two-thirds of yes/no votes to be adopted.
Tirumurti said “it is in our collective interest to work constructively, both inside the United Nations and outside, towards seeking an early resolution to the conflict.”
“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."
The Assembly voted on the draft resolution that “decides to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation.” Russia’s current membership on the Council ends in December 2023.
The only time a Member State was suspended from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council was Libya in 2011 when in an unprecedented move a resolution was adopted in the General Assembly that had expressed “deep concern about the human rights situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” in the wake of Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s violent crackdown on anti-Government protestors.
The draft resolution titled ‘Suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council’ notes the Human Rights Council resolution of March 4, 2022, in particular its grave concern regarding reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” and “violations of international humanitarian law” committed by Russia during its aggression against Ukraine.
The draft resolution expresses “grave concern” at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, particularly at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by Russia, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights. It recognises strong expressions of concern in statements by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and by the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
US Ambassador at the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had told presspersons in Bucharest, Romania this week that Washington, in close coordination with Ukraine, European countries and other partners at the UN, was going to seek Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council.
“Russia should not have a position of authority in that body, nor should we allow Russia to use their role on the Council as a tool of propaganda to suggest they have a legitimate concern about human rights. In fact, we see every day, including yesterday, heartbreaking reports about how little they care about human rights.
Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce. It hurts the credibility of the Council and the UN writ large. And it is simply wrong. Which is why we believe it is time for the UN General Assembly to suspend them,” she said.