Suspension of membership UN Human Rights Council finally operationalised

April 8, 2022

(Credit: UNTV)

It was big news that Russia was stripped of its seat in the Un human Rights Council.

In March 2014 in one of my first blog posts I argued for making better use of the possibility to suspend member states (be it in the context of reprisals): “The resolution establishing the new Human Rights Council – replacing the previous Commission – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” And one of the novelties touted was that the General Assembly, via a two-thirds majority, can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership. 

The chilling effect that reprisals can have – especially when met with impunity – is potentially extremely damaging for the whole UN system of human rights procedures and will undo the slow but steady process of the last decades. Taken together with the above-mentioned seriousness of the aggravating character of reprisals, a powerful coalition of international and regional NGOs could well start public hearings with the purpose of demanding that States that commit reprisal be suspended.

If States can lose their right to vote in the General Assembly if they do not pay their fees for several years, there is in fact nothing shocking in demanding that States, who persecute and intimidate human rights defenders BECAUSE they cooperate with the United Nations, are not allowed to take part in the proceedings of the UN human rights body.” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/]

UN members voted on Thursday 7 April to strip Russia from its seat at the Human Rights Council, over alleged civilian killings in the region around Kyiv, Ukraine. The proposal, presented at a UN General Assembly emergency session in New York, was backed by 93 countries. Russia, China, Belarus, Syria and Iran were among the 24 countries to vote against, while 58 countries, including India, Brazil and South Africa abstained.

Introducing the US-led resolution, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, ​​Sergiy Kyslytsya, told fellow members that suspending Russia’s right to sit on the Council, was “not an option, but a duty”.

This is the second time in the history of Human Rights Council (HRC) since its creation in 2006 that a sitting member has been kicked out. The first one was Libya, when late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi led a deadly crackdown on protests in 2011, only to be reinstated eight months later. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/07/05/amnesty-and-hrw-trying-to-get-saudi-arabia-suspended-from-the-un-human-rights-council/

This is the first time a permanent member of the UN Security Council has been removed from any UN body.

Countries react

Taking the floor, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, echoed Russia’s comments and said the move was politically driven. Belarus dubbed it an attempt to “demonise” Russia. Warning that they would abstain, several countries including India, Egypt, Senegal, Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, argued it was too soon to vote on such a proposal and that investigations into the allegations should be conducted beforehand.

In a statement published on its website, Russia’s permanent mission in Geneva called the decision “an unlawful and politically motivated step, the sole purpose of which – to exert pressure on a sovereign state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy”.

Russia’s deputy ambassador, Gennady Kuzmin, said after the vote that Russia had already withdrawn from the council before the assembly took action, apparently in expectation of the result. By withdrawing, council spokesman Rolando Gomez said Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.

See also the Geneva Solutions piece: https://genevasolutions.news/global-news/what-does-russia-s-suspension-mean-for-the-human-rights-council

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/un-votes-russia-out-of-the-human-rights-council-over-alleged-gross-violations-in-ukraine

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1115782

2 Responses to “Suspension of membership UN Human Rights Council finally operationalised”


  1. […] In the election, the Eastern European States was the only regional group which presented a competitive slate, as three candidates, Armenia, Georgia and Russia, contested for the two available seats. Armenia, Georgia and Russia received 47, 44 and 15 votes respectively. As a result, Russia,  a member of the Committee since its establishment in 1947, has been voted out. This result comes one week after a historic resolution of the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s Human Rights Council membership. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/08/suspension-of-membership-un-human-rights-council-finall… […]


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