Russia’s bid to rejoin UN human rights body fails amid global concerns

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Russia failed in its bid to return to the United Nations’ top human rights body on Tuesday, with rivals winning considerably more votes at the General Assembly in an election seen as a key test of Western efforts to keep Moscow isolated.

In the secret ballot, Russia won 83 votes versus 160 for Bulgaria and 123 for Albania, which had competed against it in the same eastern Europe grouping for two seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council for a three-year term beginning on Jan. 1.

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“UN member states sent a strong signal to Russia’s leadership that a government responsible for countless war crimes and crimes against humanity doesn’t belong there,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.

Russia was ousted from the council 18 months ago in a US-led diplomatic push following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

A UN-mandated investigative body

said in March that Russia had committed a wide range of war crimes in Ukraine such as wilful killings, torture and the deportation of children.

The International Criminal Court has also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova of the war crime of illegally deporting hundreds of Ukrainian children. The Kremlin rejects the accusations and the court’s jurisdiction.

A senior Russian official accused the United States of deploying unmatched efforts to ensure Russia remained out of the Human Rights Council.

“The United States campaigned for Albania,” Maria Zabolotskaya, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency. “Such a campaign directly aimed against us is unprecedented.”

‘Not even that close’

Amid some signs of Ukraine war “fatigue”, some diplomats earlier said Russia had a reasonable chance of getting voted back onto the council.

“It was not even that close in the end,” said Richard Gowan, the UN Director of the International Crisis Group. “I think Western diplomats may have been overstating the risk of a Russian win to keep UN members on their toes.”

China and Cuba were also among the winners of Tuesday’s vote, drawing objections from human rights defenders.

“Crimes against humanity and genocide apparently (are) not disqualifying actions for UN’s top human rights body,” the Uyghur Human Rights Project, which advocates against what rights campaigners say are China’s grave human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, wrote on messaging platform X.

Juan Pappier, deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, wrote on X in the run-up to the vote that Cuba was unfit to be a member of the Council.

“Its record of systematic human rights violations speaks for itself,” he wrote.

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