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Russian Federation: UN General Assembly should suspend Russia’s rights of membership of the UN Human Rights Council

In International Advocacy Program, United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

To Permanent Representatives of Member States of the United Nations in Geneva and New York


We, the undersigned civil society organisations, call on Member States of the United Nations to take  and support action at the UN General Assembly to suspend the rights of the Russian Federation as a  member of the UN Human Rights Council.

Pursuant to OP 9 of GA Resolution 60/251, members of the Council ‘shall uphold the highest  standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’.

Operative paragraph 8 of GA Resolution 60/251 provides that ‘the General Assembly, by a two-thirds  majority of the members present and voting, may suspend the rights of membership in the Council  of a member of the Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights’.

In its Resolution on the Aggression against Ukraine adopted on 2 March 2022, the General Assembly  unequivocally condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine commencing 24 February 2022 and  expressed ‘grave concern at reports of attacks on civilian facilities such as residences, schools and  hospitals, and of civilian casualties, including women, older persons, persons with disabilities, and  children’.

Likewise, in its Resolution 49/1 adopted on 4 March 2022, the Human Rights Council ‘condemned in  the strongest possible terms the human rights violations and abuses and violations of international  humanitarian law resulting from the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine’. The Council  expressed ‘grave concern at the documented harm to the enjoyment of many human rights,  including the rights to life, education, and the highest attainable standard of physical and mental  health, caused by Russian shelling and bombing in populated areas’. Further, Council resolution 49/1  expressed grave concern at reports of ‘gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights’,  thereby invoking the explicit language of GA Resolution 60/251 in so far as concerns the threshold  for suspension.

In her 3 March 2022 statement to the UN Human Rights Council’s ‘urgent debate on the situation of  human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression’, UN High Commissioner for Human  Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that the Russian attack has already resulted in a ‘massive impact on  the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine’. This massive impact includes:

  1. Forcing over 1.2 million people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and the internal  displacement of over 1 million other people, with UNHCR warning that up to 4 million  people may be forced to seek refuge in coming weeks.
  2. At least 1207 confirmed civilian casualties, including 406 civilians killed (as at 6 March 2022).  In reality, this number is likely to be much, much higher given lack of access to areas where  conflict has been the most intense and given the use of heavy artillery, multi-launch rocket  systems and cluster munitions in densely populated civilian areas.
  3. The targeting or indiscriminate bombardment of significant civilian infrastructure, including  hospitals, schools, kindergartens, apartment buildings and homes, and critical electricity,  water, sanitation and healthcare supplies and facilities. As of 7 March 2022, the World  Health Organisation had verified 16 attacks on health care facilities in Ukraine between 24  February and 3 March, with numerous further reported incidents awaiting verification.

On 28 February 2022, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced the opening of  an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, in light of prima facie evidence of possible war crimes  and crimes against humanity. On 2 March 2022, he confirmed the receipt of 39 state party referrals  of the situation in Ukraine, which will help expedite the investigation. It is very clear that the invasion itself constitutes the crime of aggression.

On 3 March 2022, it was reported that Russia has drawn up plans for public executions in captured  Ukrainian cities to deter any further resistance, while on 4 March Russian forces fired heavy artillery  at Europe’s largest nuclear reactor.

In Russia itself, authorities have arbitrarily arrested and detained over 12,700 peaceful anti-war  protesters, with reports of excessive use of force by Russian authorities. Authorities have also sought  to censor reporting of the war in Ukraine and to silence those media outlets and individuals who  speak out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including through blocking media websites, threats of  criminal prosecution under ‘fake news’ and ‘high treason’ charges and other means. Two new laws,  adopted and brought into force on 4 March, criminalise independent war reporting and protesting  the war, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison. The laws make it illegal to spread ‘fake news’  about the Russian armed forces, to call for an end to their deployment and to support sanctions  against Russian targets.

Taken together, it is indisputable that the Russian Federation is committing widespread and  systematic violations of international human rights law, which continues to apply throughout the  territory of Ukraine during the armed conflict, both in Ukraine and in Russia. This includes violations  of the rights to life, self-determination, liberty and security of person, freedom of movement,  expression, association and assembly, freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy and the  home, protection of the family, and the rights to health, housing, education, sanitation and water.  All this in a context in which the Russian aggression constitutes a flagrant violation of the purposes  and principles of the UN Charter, including as set out in the Preamble and articles 2(3), 2(4) and  33(1).

The Russian Federation’s continued membership of the UN Human Rights Council is likely to bring  the Council into disrepute. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of circumstances to which the  suspension procedure set out in OP 8 of GA Resolution 60/251 were more intended to apply than  the case of one Member State launching an illegal war of aggression in violation of the territorial  integrity and sovereignty of another Member State with the result of massive loss of life and other  gross and systematic human rights violations.

We urge you to uphold the UN Charter, the authority of the General Assembly and the integrity of  the Human Rights Council by taking and supporting action to suspend the rights of membership of  the Russian Federation of the Human Rights Council.

Yours sincerely

  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  2. Albanian Helsinki Committee
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  6. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
  7. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  8. Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  9. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Centre)
  10. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) (Argentina)
  11. Child Rights Connect
  12. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  13. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (India)
  14. Conectas Direitos Humanos (Brazil)
  15. Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience
  16. Crude Accountability
  17. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  18. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  19. Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)
  20. Human Rights Center (Georgia)
  21. Human Rights Center Viasna (Belarus)
  22. Human Rights Center ZMINA (Ukraine)
  23. Human Rights House Foundation
  24. Human Rights House Zagreb (Croatia)
  25. Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)
  26. Human Rights in Mental Health – FGIP
  27. Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)
  28. Human Rights Movement ‘Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan’ (Kazakhstan)
  29. Human Rights Without Frontiers
  30. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  31. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  32. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  33. Justice and Peace Netherlands
  34. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
  35. KontraS (Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, Indonesia)
  36. La Strada International
  37. Libereco
  38. Macedonian Helsinki Committee (Northern Macedonia)
  39. Netherlands Helsinki Committee
  40. Nobel Women’s Initiative
  41. Open Society Foundations
  42. People in Need (Czech Republic)
  43. Protection International
  44. Public Association Dignity (Kazakhstan)
  45. Scholars at Risk
  46. Universal Rights Group
  47. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  48. World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)
  49. World Uyghur Congress

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