UN General Assembly to vote Thursday on suspending Russia from human rights council

Russia has warned countries at the United Nations that a yes vote or abstention on a U.S. push to suspend Moscow from the Human Rights Council will be viewed as an “unfriendly gesture” with consequences for bilateral ties, according to a note seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The United States said on Monday it would seek Russia’s suspension after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of civilians in the town of Bucha.

The 193-member UN General Assembly in New York is due to vote on the measure on Thursday.

A two-thirds majority of voting members – abstentions do not count – can suspend a country from the 47-member Geneva based Human Rights Council for committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.

Russia’s mission to the United Nations urged countries to “speak out against the anti-Russian resolution.” It was not immediately clear how many countries received the note.

“It is worth mentioning that not only support for such an initiative, but also an equidistant position in the vote (abstention or non-participation) will be considered as an unfriendly gesture,” the note read.

“In addition, the position of each country will 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 UN,” it read.

Russia’s mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the letter because it was not public. Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the Human Rights Council.

“Russia blatantly and openly threatening countries who vote to suspend them from the UN Human Rights Council is only further evidence that Russia needs to be suspended immediately from the UN Human Rights Council,” Olivia Dalton, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said on Wednesday.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the Assembly has adopted two resolutions denouncing Russia with 141 and 140 votes in favor. Moscow says it is carrying out a “special operation” to demilitarize Ukraine.

Russia denies attacking civilians in Ukraine and Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Tuesday that while Bucha was under Russian control “not a single civilian suffered from any kind of violence.”

The General Assembly has previously suspended a country from the Human Rights Council. In March 2011, it unanimously suspended Libya because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The United States is leading the push to suspend Russia from the council following the apparent discovery of murdered civilians in Kyiv’s suburbs over the weekend.

Ukrainian forces found bodies scattered in the streets of Bucha, a suburb of Kviv. Some were found with evidence indicating they’d been killed at close range.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of committing “the most terrible war crimes” since the Second World War when he addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday. Russia has rejected the accusations.

Canada joined its allies calling for Russia to be suspended from the UNHRC over the war in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on Tuesday that Russia should not sit on the council due to “war crimes” it’s reportedly committed since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“With ongoing reports of heinous acts of violence and war crimes at the hands of Russian forces, Russia’s utter disregard for human rights could not be any clearer,” Joly said on Twitter.

“Russia has no place on the UNHRC.”

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