Senate Is Rebelling Against Russia’s Membership in the UN’s Human Rights Council

The 47-member human rights council counts among its participants some of the world’s worst rights abusers.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, March 18, 2022. AP/Jason DeCrow

The Biden administration is cool to a new drive in the Senate calling for the removal of Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council — while the world body warns that expelling Russia from the council would set a bad precedent. 

Citing atrocities committed in Ukraine, Democrat and Republican members of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee are urging the American ambassador at the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to launch a drive to oust Russia from the Geneva-based human rights body. 

The four Republican and eight Democrat committee members, led by Senators Menendez and Risch, write that “the multitude of crimes committed by the Russian Federation, and by Vladimir Putin himself, demonstrates that the Russian government has no intention of upholding international human rights.” Thus, they add, the “time has come for Russia to no longer have a seat on the Council.”

The 47-member human rights council counts among its participants some of the world’s worst rights abusers. Removing a country from that body requires the support of at least two-thirds of the General Assembly’s 193 members. It has happened: After Muammar Gadhafi opened fire on anti-government protesters in 2011, the Assembly suspended Libya’s council membership. 

At Turtle Bay, the notch of Manhattan on the East River where the world body is headquartered, “there is a certain level of concern about the setting of a dangerous precedent,” Secretary-General Guterres’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said this week after being asked about the senators’ call to expel Russia from the council. 

In their letter, the senators call on the American ambassador to start the process, writing, “We implore you to introduce a resolution in the UN General Assembly to call for the removal of the Russian Federation from the UNHRC immediately.”

The American legation was non committal in response. A representative of Ms. Thomas-Greenfield quoted a month-old statement made by Secretary of State Blinken on a trip to Geneva: “One can reasonably ask,” Mr. Blinken said, “whether a UN Member State that tries to take over another UN Member State — while committing horrific human rights abuses and causing massive humanitarian suffering — should be allowed to remain on this council.”

Yet will America initiate the process to remove Russia now, as called for by the senators?

“Diplomatic double talk is typical UN language,” Senator Risch told the Sun. “This situation calls for clarity. The international community and the UN member states should be ashamed of themselves if they continue to allow Russia to sit on the UNHRC.”

Asked if the time is ripe for expelling Russia from the UN entirely, including by taking away its permanent Security Council seat, Mr. Risch said, “The Russia UN credential question is more complicated than the UNHRC, but we are exploring all options in order to bring back integrity to the UN system.”

UN Watch’s director, Hillel Neuer, who follows closely the goings on in Geneva, said he and his group “fully endorse the sentiment expressed by Mr. Blinken before the council, but now is time for action.

“Every day that Russia sits on the world’s highest human rights body while slaughtering innocent civilians in Ukraine is an outrage,” Mr. Neuer says, adding however that in Geneva “the whole system is built on turning a blind eye” to human rights violations.

Communist China, Cuba, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Libya, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Venezuela are among the most egregious human rights violators, beside Russia, sitting as members of the Geneva-based council.

In contrast, Israel, a democracy, has been cited on trumped up allegations of rights violations far more often than all other UN members combined. Yet, Israel is unlikely to ever become a member. 

Membership is determined by a General Assembly vote, based on recommendations from regional groupings. Most candidates run for council seats uncontested. As the membership list indicates, there are no criteria demanding that a human rights council member must have good human rights records. 

That admittance process was one of the reasons cited by President George W. Bush for refusing to join the council, when it was formed in 2006. President Obama did join the council, citing the need to reform it from within. President Trump left the council and President Biden rejoined soon after acceding to the White House. America is currently a council member. 

Countries with bad human rights records often aspire for and easily gain council seats. A fear of being expelled, as well, might lead them to vote against ousting Russia. A bloc of human rights violators could therefore doom a supermajority General Assembly vote to expel Russia. Even if a vote by most General Assembly members were to fail to gain a two-thirds majority, the effort could help to further isolate Russia internationally. 


The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  Create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use