The UN General Assembly has delivered Russia a crushing diplomatic blow suspending it from the Human Rights Council, but India abstained on the action keeping up its neutral stance.
Russia announced immediately after Thursday’s vote that it was voluntarily withdrawing from the 47-member Council.
“If India has chosen any side, it is the side of peace and it is for an immediate end to violence,” Permanent Representative T.S. Tirumurti said.
India was abstaining “for reasons of both substance and process”, he said.
India, whose defence relies very heavily on Russia, defied a threat from Moscow that those abstaining could face consequences.
Simultaneously, New Delhi, which is also a member of the Council, did not give in to pressures from the US and the West to vote for the suspension.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar twice in the last eight days, and Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh and Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited New Delhi last month, as did the uk’S Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Thursday’s was India’s eighth abstention on actions at the UN relating to Ukraine.
The Assembly’s 2006 resolution setting up the Council allows for a country to be suspended if it carries out gross and systematic violations of human rights.
The resolution received 93 votes, while 24 countries voted against it, 58 abstained and 18 stayed away entirely from the voting.
But suspending Russia from the Council is considered such a serious matter that the votes for it were less than the 140 that a resolution last month condemning Moscow had received and the negative votes increased from five and the abstentions from 37.
The only other suspension of a member of the Council was in 2011 when the Assembly voted to temporarily remove Libya then ruled by Muammar Gaddafi.
The resolution proposed by the US, Ukraine and their allies came after stark images and horrific narratives of killings and atrocities emerged from Bucha after Russian troops withdrew from the Ukrainian town.
Tirumurti said: “Recent reports of civilian killings in Bucha are deeply disturbing. We have unequivocally condemned these killings and support the call for an independent investigation.”
But on the resolution, he said” “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 UN.”
Calling on UN members to vote for the resolution, Ukraine’s Permanent Representative Sergiy Kyslytsya said that in Bucha and dozens of other cities and villages “thousands of peaceful residents have been killed, tortured, raped, abducted and robbed by the Russian Army”.
Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative Gennady Kuzminin denounced the resolution as an “attempt by Western countries and their allies to destroy the existing human rights architecture”.
After the vote, US Permanent Representative Linda Thomas Greenfield said the vote was about the UN’s credibility and “the international community took one collective step in the right direction”.
“Right now, the world is looking to us; they are asking if the UN is prepared to meet this moment. They are wondering if we are a platform for propaganda and a safe haven for human rights abusers or if we are prepared to live up to our highest ideals, enshrined in the UN Charter.”
Many of the countries that abstained or cast a negative vote said that it was premature to suspend Russia before an inquiry into the atrocities ordered by the Council was complete.
South Africa, which abstained, said that while “we are awaiting findings from the allegations of gross violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law” the resolution was prejudging the outcome of the commission of inquiry”.
In a rare action at the UN, Russia issued a widely circulated written threat to countries against abstaining on the resolution or voting against it.
Threats, or blandishments, are not unusual at the UN but they are done more discretely.
The Russian Mission sent around a note warning that Moscow will consider abstaining or absenting an “unfriendly” act that it will take into account in “the development of bilateral relations”.
China, which voted against the resolution, repeated its criticism that smaller countries should not be forced to take sides.
Of the South Asian countries, Afghanistan was absent from the Assembly, while all the others abstained.
Tellingly, outside of Europe, a wide array of larger or influential nations abstained on the resolution.
They included Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Assembly President Abdulla Shadid is away in the Pacific for climate change-related activities and Vice President Kennedy Gastorn of Tanzania presided over the emergency session.
The Council includes several members like China, Eritrea and Sudan, which have been accused of serious human rights violations.
Announcing that Russia was quitting the Council, Kuzmin said that it was being “monopolised by a single group of states” that “over years have either engaged in gross and mass violations of human rights or showed indulgence towards such”.
Russia’s withdrawal from the Council, where its term would have run until the end of next year, mirrors that of the US under former President Donald Trump, but for different reasons.
When the US withdrew from the Council in 2018, US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley said that it makes a “mockery of human rights”.
President Joe Biden brought the US back to the Council and it was elected a member last year for a three-year term.
The US had boycotted the Council for its first three years after it was founded in 2006.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed @arulouis)