American Jewish Committee (AJC) applauded the UN General Assembly decision to suspend Russia’s membership on the UN Human Rights Council. The resolution was adopted today with 93 states voting in favor and 24 against, and 58 abstentions. Russia subsequently announced that it would withdraw from membership on the Council entirely, leaving during the second year of a three-year term.

The Human Rights Council is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly,  which can suspend Council members that are committing “gross and systematic violations of human rights” by a vote of two-thirds of those present and voting yes or no.

“Today’s momentous vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council is a principled action reflecting the grave concern shared by many governments about the gross, systematic violations of human rights that Russian forces have committed during the invasion of Ukraine,” said Felice Gaer, Director of AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.

U.S. Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield had announced on Monday that the U.S., together with other countries, would propose a resolution suspending Russia’s membership on the Human Rights Council following the revelation that Russian forces committed widespread executions, torture, and rape in Bucha and other Ukrainian cities and villages. The resolution will send  "a strong message from the international community that we’re not going to allow them to sit in the Human Rights Council, declare themselves supporters of human rights while they are committing war crimes in Ukraine,” Thomas-Greenfield told CNN in advance of today’s vote.

Speaking before the vote, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya noted that today the UN commemorates the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. He recalled the indifference shown by the international community to that tragedy as it unfolded in 1994 and stressed that Russia must face consequences for the atrocities its forces have committed against Ukrainian civilians since the invasion began on February 24. Ambassador Kyslytsya also recalled Elie Wiesel’s warning that “indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor, never its victim.”

Ambassador Kyslytsya and representatives of other countries supporting the resolution adopted today stressed that suspending Russia was a “collective effort to preserve the credibility of the Human Rights Council.”

The General Assembly has taken the extraordinary action of suspending a member of the Human Rights Council only once before, when it suspended Libya’s membership following President Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s commission of atrocities against civilian protesters in 2011.

On March 4, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution creating an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Only Russia and Eritrea voted against that resolution. Ukraine and the United States were the lead co-sponsors of the resolution creating the new commission of inquiry.

“Though very welcome, today’s vote should never have been necessary,” said Gaer. “It is now time for the U.S. and like-minded countries to dedicate themselves to the long-overdue project of improving the Council’s membership, as a matter of urgency.”

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