Russia’s ouster from rights body has grave implications

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The decision to remove Russia from the UNHRC is far-reaching and unprecedented. This would have compelled all countries to reflect deeply and carefully on how they would vote. Their decisions would have been dictated not only by their individual bilateral relations with the Russian Federation but also by the implications of such a decision on the global multilateral system, writes Ashok Sajjanhar

Russia was expelled from the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) at a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on April 7, 2022.

Like on earlier ten occasions during discussions in the United Nations on the Russian aggression against Ukraine, India abstained in this vote also. In the Explanation of the Vote delivered after casting his vote, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN asserted that if it has “chosen” any side, it is the side of “peace and it is for an immediate end to violence. Since the inception of the Ukrainian conflict, India has stood for peace, dialogue and diplomacy. We believe that no solution can be arrived at by shedding blood and at the cost of innocent lives.’’ He said that India’s action was dictated by ‘’reasons of both substance and process.”

India has adopted a balanced approach in all discussions at the UN on this issue. This has been predicated by the necessity to uphold and promote its core security and developmental interests as well as to preserve the fundamental principles of the UN Charter to maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all member States.

By abstaining in the UN, India is not abdicating its responsibility or becoming a fence-sitter. On the contrary, by advocating the path of dialogue and diplomacy, and adherence to the UN Charter and principles, India is advancing its interests and ensuring peace, security and stability of all countries concerned.

The Vote

93 countries voted in favour of the Resolution to evict Russia from this UN body while 24 voted against and 58 countries abstained. A few countries were either absent or did not vote.

As against this, 141 countries had voted for the Resolution in the UNGA on 2nd March, 2022 which reaffirmed Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and demanded that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”  4 countries had then voted with Russia and 38 countries abstained. In this case also, a few countries either absented themselves or did not exercise their option to vote.

Some commentators argue that the significant decline in numbers supporting the Resolution on 7th April, 2022 as compared to 2nd March, and increase in the support for Russia between these two dates, should be seen as a drop in the support for the position being articulated by the US, Europe and other protagonists of the Ukrainian cause.

(Photo_Twitter@RussiaUN)

Such a conclusion would be misplaced.

It needs to be recognized that the Resolution on 2nd March was a decision in favour of peace and a direction to the aggressor to immediately cease hostilities and withdraw its troops from the territories of Ukraine that it had occupied illegally in violation of the UN Charter and principles of respect of Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity. It was a normative and principled decision.

The more recent Resolution on 7th April is however a considerably more substantive Resolution which results in specific action of expelling the Russian Federation from a major UN body. It is an extremely significant action to eject a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and one of the five recognized nuclear weapon states out of a UN organ. This is only the second time that an action to oust a country from the UN HRC has been taken, the first time having been in 2011 when Libya was ejected from the UNHRC by consensus with the UNGA ‘’expressing its deep concern about the situation in that country in the wake of Muammar Al-Qadhafi’s violent crackdown on anti-Government protestors.’’

The fundamental purport and objective of the two Resolutions was vastly different. It is hence but natural that countries would view them differently, examine them separately and come to different conclusions and decisions.

The decision to remove Russia from the UNHRC is far-reaching and unprecedented. This would have compelled all countries to reflect deeply and carefully on how they would vote. Their decisions would have been dictated not only by their individual bilateral relations with the Russian Federation but also by the implications of such a decision on the global multilateral system.

Some countries who had earlier abstained in the voting that took place on 2nd March might also have been compelled to reconsider their positions after Russia made it clear that in this vote Moscow would view even “abstention or non-participation” as “an unfriendly gesture” to be “taken into account both in the development of bilateral relations and in the work on the issues important for it within the framework of the U.N.”

Some countries which had earlier either abstained or voted in favour of the Resolution to demand an end to violence and hostilities but in the latest Resolution came out in support of the Russian position include China; Iran; Vietnam; Cuba; Lao PDR; Ethiopia; and the four countries from Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – the fifth Central Asian nation, Turkmenistan, did not vote, ostensibly taking refuge behind its avowed status of being a ‘’neutral country’’). Reasons for China, Iran and Cuba to support Russia can be easily understood. All these countries have strained and tense relations with the USA and the West. It is hence natural for these countries to vote en bloc against the West, to bolster their own unity.

Rationale for the support by Central Asia to Russia is also easily comprehensible because they form a part of the ‘’near abroad’’ of Russia and depend on it significantly for ensuring and safeguarding their security, particularly in view of the takeover of power by the Taliban in Afghanistan. These countries would also like to maintain a balance by ensuring strong, substantive relations with Russia, keeping in view the growing foot print of China in Central Asia. Vietnam’s support for Russia can also be explained by considering its strong relations with Russia, particularly in the defence sector.

Singapore is one of the countries that moved from an affirmative response in the vote on 2nd March to an abstention on 7th April. This has come as a surprise as Singapore is the only ASEAN member state which has gone along with the West to impose sanctions against Russia because of the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. Singapore’s representative took the opportunity before the vote to condemn “the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine and its continuing attacks on Ukrainian cities, civilians and civilian infrastructure in the strongest possible terms.” This does not square up with the subsequent action by Singapore on the vote.

Ukraine war.(credit httpswww.facebook.comzelenskiy.official)

Conclusion

One of the reasons for the move of a large number of abstentions from 2nd March to a vote in favour of Russia on 7th April could be due to the somewhat unseemly hurry with which this Resolution was tabled at the UNGA. Several countries, including India, had strongly suggested that an impartial, independent investigation be conducted into the Bucha massacre. India had ‘’unequivocally condemned’’ the deeply disturbing reports of civilian killings in Bucha and supported the call for an independent investigation, as, when innocent human lives are at stake, diplomacy must prevail as the only viable option.’’ Several countries felt that more consultations should have been held before bringing the Resolution to vote.

Some countries were also uncomfortable with the fact that there was no uniformity or consistency in bringing forth such Resolutions. Several instances of past egregious and heinous human rights violations by several countries in conflicts have been ignored and not brought in front of the UNGA. In addition, many cases like the persecution and oppression of the Uyghur Muslims and Tibetans by China do not attract the same attention and response by the international community.

To ensure and enhance the credibility and respect for the UN system, it is essential to eschew selectivity and promote fairness and equity while dealing with different countries, big or small, weak or powerful in the international system.

(Amb. Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is an Executive Council Member at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis and President, Institute of Global Studies. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)

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