Monday, February 26, 2024

Recent Suspension of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council: Brief Reflections on Diverse Manoeuvres

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By Dr. Nicolas Boeglin

On 7 April 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution suspending Russia’s participation in the UN Human Rights Council. The first operative paragraph of this resolution states that the General Assembly:

“1. Decides to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation”.

We refer to this official UN press release on this vote (as well as its French version), and reproduce the official text of the resolution adopted at the end of this same press release in English, French and Russian. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council in (very) short

As is well known, the Human Rights Council is the highest human rights body within the current United Nations structure, made up of States elected by the United Nations General Assembly itself. 

From the Latin American region, we had the opportunity to analyse the recent election of Argentina, Honduras and Paraguay on behalf of Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in October 2021 (see our brief note published in Spanish); that of Bolivia, Cuba and Mexico in 2020 (see note); as well as that of Brazil and Venezuela in 2019 (see note), an election in which Costa Rica participated with a last minute candidacy that failed (Note 1). The eight aforementioned States elected in 2019 constitute the current representatives of Latin America in this intergovernmental body, which is composed of 47 Member States. 

It should be recalled that the current Human Rights Council, created by resolution A/RES/60/251 of April 2006 (see text), replaced the Commission on Human Rights, which functioned from 1946 until March 2006 and was composed of 53 Member States. 

The suspension of a State from membership at the Human Rights Council following a vote in the UN General Assembly has only one precedent: in 2011, Libya was subject to a very similar resolution suspending its membership (see text of resolution A/RES/65/265 of March 2011). This resolution on Libya has been adopted in 2011 without a vote by UN General Assembly. 

In June 2018, United States opted to withdraw from the Human Rights Council voluntarily, as a sign of solidarity with its staunch Israeli ally: Israel’s highest authorities welcomed this unprecedented gesture by their unconditional American ally (see Times of Israel´s article of 20/06/2018) (Note 2).

The vote recorded on 7 April in brief 

The draft of future resolution A/RES/ES-11/3  adopted on 7 April in New York was presented on 6 April by 57 states, including Colombia on the Latin American side, followed later by Costa Rica and Guatemala (Note 3): the voting record shows that the resolution has been adopted with 93 votes in favour, 24 against, 58 abstentions and 18 states whose delegates opted for the always peculiar option of “No Show” (see details of the vote in this UN link). The votes in favour included those of Hungary (one of the proposing State) and Serbia, States usually reluctant to expose Russia in this type of exercise at the universal level, as well as the votes of Israel and Turkey, States that are trying to offer their good offices in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

Among those who voted against the resolution suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council were Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua in the American hemisphere; as well as, in Africa, Algeria, Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mali and Zimbabwe. 

Among the 58 abstentions were Barbados, Belize, Brazil, El Salvador, Guyana, Mexico, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname. In African continent, Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.

UN resolution suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.

It should be noted that, for the third time since the adoption of resolutions on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine (see our brief note on the resolution adopted on 2 March and our note on the resolution adopted on 24 March), the delegate of Venezuela opted for the very particular “No Show” option (absence of its delegate at the time the vote was recorded). 

With regard to some States that resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991 and that still maintain a privileged relationship with Russia, it is worth noting that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan opted for the “No Show” option, while the others supported Russia by voting against the resolution (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). 

A detailed look at Russia’s first reaction after the vote

Immediately after the vote, the Russian delegate stated in his official statement at UN General Assembly that:

his delegation made the decision to suspend its membership on the Human Rights Council, on 7 April, before the end of its term” 

Russia took the decision to withdraw from Human Rights Council  the very same day that the vote to suspend it took place? When exactly ? This detail prompted this and many other very valid questions from several delegates (United Kingdom and France in particular) asking at what point Russia notified this decision and whether it actually did so or whether the interpreters used wrong words leading to questions about such a surprising announcement (see official UN press release, and in particular the section “Statements after adoption“).

A detailed look at Russia’s diplomatic strategy

Beyond the Russian delegation’s sense of improvisation after the vote that took place at UN General Assembly, the diplomatic pressures of Russia before the vote deserve to be mentioned.
Indeed, in the face of a probable new diplomatic victory for Ukraine that would contribute to further isolate Russia vis-a-vis of the international community, unprecedented efforts of Russia were expected, and at the highest level, in order to try to put a stop to it days before 7 April. Within the UN structure, the fact that Russia is a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and was the subject of a resolution to suspend its participation in a UN body such as the Human Rights Council must be seen as a real and rarely observed affront, from Russia´s perspective.

As part of its strategy, Russia sent official letters in the days leading up to the vote to a large number of states warning that they would be considered “Unfriendly States” to Russia if they voted in favour but also if they abstained or did not participate in the vote as such (“No Show“): a pressure to which several States succumbed, particularly in Central Asia (see press release coming from this region of the world). 
The content of these letters now raises questions about the abstention of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and Jordan, as well as the “No Show” vote in Venezuela, among many others, and the vote in favour of Hungary, Israel, Serbia and Turkey. The aforementioned letter sent by Russia, according to several media outlets that quote it (see for example this article published in India), expressly indicated the terms of Russia’s warning:

It is worth mentioning that not only support for such an initiative but also an equidistant position in the vote (abstention or non-participation) will be considered as an unfriendly gesture“.

Beyond Russia’s diplomatic efforts to curb this type of initiative, it will be of great interest to observe whether, from now on, the 58 States that abstained and the 18 that were absent at the time of the vote will be included in the list of “Unfriendly States” to Russia: if some are, but not all, it will be of (even greater) interest to know exactly the criteria used by Russia. 

It must be recalled that a first version of a list of “Unfriendly States” was released by Russian press agencies on 7 March 2022 (see for example this report by the TASS news agency). This list of States officially declared “hostile” by Russia coincides in part – but not in its entirety – with the list of States that requested days earlier the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation (see list included in this ICC press release dated 2/03/2022): we leave it to our esteemed readers to check which States appear on both lists and which do not.

For some reason that must not be considered as a mere coincidence of timing, on 5 April, Russia made official a list of 52 “Friendly States” with which commercial flights would be resumed, after the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this as of 9 April: in this regard, we refer our readers to this note published in Israel with the list of States (in Russian), as well as this note published in Argentina, this press release published in India and this other note published in Thailand. Despite the perceptible enthusiasm that can be gleaned from reading several of the aforementioned notes, since the vote on 7 April, logically, there can no longer be 52 “friendly” States of Russia, but far fewer: since the restart of commercial air flights between Russia and these 52 States is scheduled for 9 April 2022, it will be from this date that we will see how flexible (or not so flexible) Russia is.

Concluding remarks

Despite intense lobbying by Russia’s diplomacy, this new vote at UN General Assembly once again isolates Russia. 

If Russia is consistent with the letter sent by its diplomats to a large number of capitals around the world, it will be further isolated by maintaining friendly or normal relations with only 23 States that voted with it against this resolution. These are 23 of the 193 Member States of the United Nations and some very valid questions for the remaining States are now raised: 

– Are the remaining 170 States now all to be placed in the category of “Unfriendly States” to Russia? Or not all of them? 

– If not, on the basis of what kind of criteria would some be included and others discarded? It is very likely, as new abuses in former Russian-controlled areas come to light, and new attacks in Ukraine cause damage to civilians (such as the one on the Kramatorsk railway station reported on April 8th – see official UN communiqué), that other such resolutions will be adopted and that new efforts to suspend Russia from other UN bodies will take place. 

These resolutions could be adopted in the coming weeks, particularly if Russia does not rectify its actions, which began on 24 February 2022 with a massive military aggression on Ukrainian territory, which continues to be officially referred to in Russia (both officially and in the Russian media) as a “special military operation“.

On 16 March, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest judicial body of the United Nations, ordered to Russia immediately cease its military agression on Ukrainian territory. We refer our esteemed readers to our brief note (in Spanish) entitled “Ukraine/Russia: the provisional measures ordered against Russia by the ICJ put into perspective  .. / .. Ucrania / Rusia: las medidas provisionales ordenadas a Rusia por la Corte Internacional de Justicia (CIJ) puestas en perspectiva”  available in different sites in Latin America, which concluded by stating that: 

It can be anticipated that this ruling read by the ICJ on 16 March 2022 also constitutes a first step in a long judicial battle to come, aimed at obtaining reparations and compensation from Russia for the serious damage caused to Ukraine: it was the same intention that Nicaragua had in 1984 before the ICJ, in the face of the destruction propitiated, financed and orchestrated by the United States on its territory through the so-called Nicaraguan “contra”.. / ..” Se puede adelantar que esta providencia leída por la CIJ este 16 de marzo del 2022 constituye también un primer peldaño en una larga batalla judicial por venir, tendiente a obtener reparaciones e indemnizaciones de parte de Rusia por los graves daños ocasionados a Ucrania: fue la misma intención la que tuvo Nicaragua en 1984 ante la CIJ,  ante la destrucción propiciada, financiada y orquestada por Estados Unidos en su territorio a través de la denominada “contra” nicaragüense

– Notes –

Note 1: On this unprecedented initiative of Costa Rican diplomacy, see our brief analysis (in Spanish), BOEGLIN N., “La reciente candidatura de Costa Rica al Consejo de Derechos Humanos de Naciones Unidas: breves apuntes“, RIDH (Geneva), edition of 16/10/2019, text available here.

Note 2: On this unusual action taken by United States in 2018, see our brief analysis (in Spanish), BOEGLIN N., “El retiro de Estados Unidos del Consejo de Derechos Humanos: breves apuntes“, RIDH (Geneva), edition of 26/06/2018, text available here.

Note 3: The draft resolution submitted 24 hours before the vote on 6 April (see text) was proposed by: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Marshall Islands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, United States of America, Japan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Malta, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America. In a second document (see text), four more States were added: Costa Rica, Guatemala, Myanmar, San Marino and Tonga.

About the author:

Dr. Nicolas Boeglin.

Nicolas Boeglin, is a Professor of Public International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Costa Rica (UCR)

Text of the resolution adopted in English / French / Russian

“Suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council 

The General Assembly, 

Recalling its resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, in particular paragraph 8, which states that the General Assembly may suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights, 

Taking note of Human Rights Council resolution 49/1 of 4 March 2022, in particular the grave concern of the Council regarding reports of gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Russian Federation during its aggression against Ukraine, 

Recalling its resolutions ES-11/1 of 2 March 2022 and ES-11/2 of 24 March 2022,

Expressing grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, in particular at the reports of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights, recognizing the strong expressions of concern in statements by the Secretary-General and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and noting the latest update on the human rights situation in Ukraine by the human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine, of 26 March 2022,

1. Decides to suspend the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation; 

2. Also decides to review the matter, as appropriate; 

3. Further decides to adjourn the eleventh emergency special session of the General Assembly temporarily and to authorize the President of the General Assembly to resume its meetings upon request from Member States”.


Suspension du droit de la Fédération de Russie de siéger au Conseil des droits de l’homme 

L’Assemblée générale, 

Rappelant sa résolution 60/251 du 15 mars 2006, en particulier le paragraphe 8 qui l’autorise à suspendre le droit de siéger au Conseil des droits de l’homme d’un membre de celui-ci qui aurait commis des violations flagrantes et systématiques des droits de l’homme, 

Prenant note de la résolution 49/1 du Conseil des droits de l’homme du 4 mars 2022, dans laquelle notamment le Conseil s’est dit gravement préoccupé par les informations concernant des violations flagrantes et systématiques des droits de l’homme et atteintes à ces droits et des violations du droit international humanitaire commises par la Fédération de Russie lors de son agression contre l’Ukraine, 

Rappelant ses résolutions ES-11/1 du 2 mars 2022 et ES-11/2 du 24 mars 2022,

 Gravement préoccupée par la crise des droits de l’homme et la crise humanitaire en cours en Ukraine, en particulier par les informations concernant des violations des droits de l’homme et atteintes à ces droits et des violations du droit international humanitaire par la Fédération de Russie, y compris des violations flagrantes et systématiques des droits de l’homme et des atteintes à ces droits, consciente des vives préoccupations exprimées par le Secrétaire général et la Haute-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l’homme, et prenant acte du dernier compte rendu sur la situation des droits de l’homme en Ukraine présenté le 26 mars 2022 par la mission de surveillance des droits de l’homme en Ukraine, 

1. Décide de suspendre le droit de la Fédération de Russie de siéger au Conseil des droits de l’homme ; 

2. Décide également de revenir sur la question selon qu’il conviendra ; 

3. Décide en outre d’ajourner à titre provisoire sa onzième session extraordinaire d’urgence et d’autoriser son président à la rouvrir à la demande des États Membres.


“Приостановление прав членства Российской Федерации в Совете по правам человека 

Генеральная Ассамблея, 

ссылаясь на свою резолюцию 60/251 от 15 марта 2006 года, в частности на пункт 8 ее постановляющей части, в котором установлено, что Генеральная Ассамблея может приостановить членство в Совете по правам человека какоголибо члена Совета, который совершает грубые и систематические нарушения прав человека, 

принимая к сведению резолюцию 49/1 Совета по правам человека от 4 марта 2022 года, в частности серьезную обеспокоенность Совета сообщениями о грубых и систематических нарушениях и ущемлениях прав человека и нарушениях международного гуманитарного права, совершенных Российской Федерацией в ходе ее агрессии против Украины, 

ссылаясь на свои резолюции ES-11/1 от 2 марта 2022 года и ES-11/2 от 24 марта 2022 года, 

выражая серьезную обеспокоенность продолжающимся правозащитным и гуманитарным кризисом на Украине, особенно в связи с сообщениями о нарушениях и ущемлениях прав человека и нарушениях международного гуманитарного права со стороны Российской Федерации, включая грубые и систематические нарушения и ущемления прав человека, учитывая решительные выражения обеспокоенности в заявлениях Генерального секретаря и Верховного комиссара Организации Объединенных Наций по правам человека и отмечая последнюю обновленную информацию о ситуации с правами человека на Украине от 26 марта 2022 года, подготовленную миссией по наблюдению за правами человека на Украине, 

1. постановляет приостановить права членства Российской Федерации в Совете по правам человека; 

2. постановляет также вернуться к рассмотрению данного вопроса при наличии надлежащих условий; 

3. постановляет далее временно прервать работу одиннадцатой чрезвычайной специальной сессии Генеральной Ассамблеи и уполномочить Председателя Генеральной Ассамблеи возобновить ее заседания по требованию государств-членов”

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