The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the world organization's leading human rights body over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which the United States and Ukraine have called tantamount to war crimes.
The vote was 93-24 with 58 abstentions, significantly lower than the vote on two resolutions the assembly adopted last month demanding an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, withdrawal of all Russian troops and protection for civilians. Both of those resolutions were approved by at least 140 nations.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia from its seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in the wake of videos and photos of streets in the town of Bucha strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians after Russian soldiers retreated. The deaths have sparked global revulsion and calls for tougher sanctions on Russia, which has vehemently denied its troops were responsible.
Russia is the second country to have its membership rights stripped at the rights council which was established in 2006. In 2011, Libya was suspended by the assembly when upheaval in the North African country brought down longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
While almost half the U.N.'s 193 member nations supported the resolution, more than half either voted against it, abstained or didn't vote.
Explaining their decision not to support the resolution, some countries called it premature, noting that there are ongoing investigations into whether war crimes have occurred, or said it would undermine the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations. Others said the resolution reflected American and European geopolitical agendas and what opponents called Western hypocrisy and selective outrage about human rights.
Before the vote, Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya urged assembly members to keep the Human Rights Council from "sinking" and suspend Russia, saying it has committed "horrific human rights violations and abuses that would be equated to war crimes and crimes against humanity."
"Russia's actions are beyond the pale," he said. "Russia is not only committing human rights violations, it is shaking the underpinnings of international peace and security."
Russia's deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin urged members to vote "no."
"What we're seeing today is an attempt by the United States to maintain its dominant position and total control," he said. "We reject the untruthful allegations against us, based on staged events and widely circulated fakes."
In an appeal to some member states before the vote, Russia said the attempt to expel it from the Human Rights Council is political and being supported by countries that want to preserve their dominant position and control over the world.
Those nations want to continue "the politics of neo-colonialism of human rights" in international relations, Russia said in the document obtained by The Associated Press, insisting that its priority is to promote and defend human rights, including multilaterally in the Human Rights Council.
Kyslytsya responded to Russia's complaints saying: "We have heard, many times, the same perverted logic of the aggressor trying to present itself as the victim."
While the Human Rights Council is based in Geneva, its members are elected by the General Assembly for three-year terms. Russia's term ends in December 2023.
The March 2006 resolution that established the council says the assembly may suspend membership rights of a country "that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights."
The brief resolution that was approved 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 the Russian Federation, including gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights."
The General Assembly voted 140-5 with 38 abstentions on March 24 on a resolution blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.
The vote was almost exactly the same as for a March 2 resolution that the assembly adopted demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all civilians. That vote was 141-5 with 35 abstentions.
China abstained in both votes but voted against suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.
"Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among member states and intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned," said Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun. "It is like adding fuel to the fire."
India abstained for a third time.
Indian Ambassador T. S. Tirumurti said his country wasn't taking sides -- except "a side of peace and for an immediate end to violence." "When innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option," he added.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.