The U.N. General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from its human rights council over allegations of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield launched the campaign to suspend Russia after images surfaced of torture and brutal killings of civilians in Bucha, near Kyiv. Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said the Bucha killings were evidence of “genocide,” while U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders said they constituted “war crimes.”
The vote to oust Russia from the council was 93-24 with 58 abstentions, a significantly lower figure than the 140-plus members that supported resolutions last month to blame Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, protect civilians and call for an immediate cease-fire. A two-thirds majority was necessary for the vote to be successful.
“It was historic,” Thomas-Greenfield said on MSNBC, minutes after the vote. “It was unprecedented that the General Assembly voted to suspend a permanent member of the Security Council from the Human Rights Council.”
On Wednesday, Russia warned countries that a “yes” vote would be viewed as an “unfriendly gesture” and threatened consequences. Prior to the vote Thursday, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the U.N., Gennady Kuzmin, cast blame on the United States as the aggressor.
“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.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., Sergiy Kyslytsya, disagreed, accusing Russia of both war crimes and crimes against humanity. “We have heard, many times, the same perverted logic of the aggressor trying to present itself as the victim,” he said.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy pleaded with the U.N. to act, noting that if the world’s largest international organization is unprepared to address the Russian threat, “the United Nations can simply be closed.”
Thomas-Greenfield responded to Zelenskyy after the vote Thursday, noting that the U.N. is “doing everything possible” to hold Russia accountable.
“I have to say I understand his frustration,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “His country is under attack. And he has a sense that the world is not there. But we are there. We are here at the United Nations. We held the Russians accountable today.”