Russia must accept weight of being ‘expelled’ from international body

It is clear that Russia has become even more isolated for the atrocities it has committed in Ukraine. The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin must accept the weight of having been effectively expelled from an international organization.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted by majority vote a resolution to suspend Russia’s membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council. This means that Russia has lost the right to vote at the council, among other matters, halfway through its three-year term.

The U.N. body has the role of monitoring and protecting human rights in each country. When one of its members is deemed to have committed serious human rights violations, its membership can be suspended with a two-thirds majority of voting members in the U.N. General Assembly.

This is only the second case of a Human Rights Council membership being suspended, with Libya having faced suspension in 2011 under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi. This is also the first time a suspension has been imposed on a major power. It is commendable that the international community demonstrated its stance of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its acts of brutality. It is also commendable that the mechanism to exclude a problematic country from the council has worked appropriately.

The resolution will also likely put pressure on other countries such as China, Venezuela and Cuba, which have been elected as members of the council despite being criticized for human rights violations.

The resolution garnered 93 votes in favor of suspension, while 24 countries voted against and 58 abstained. The number of countries that supported the resolution was smaller than the more than 140 that voted in March in favor of a resolution to condemn Russia for its invasion, and a tendency to abstain was seen among countries that have faced criticism of their own human rights situations.

Nonetheless, abstentions do not count in the votes and therefore have essentially the same implication as voting in favor of the resolution. Russia reportedly pressured some other countries to vote against, saying it would consider an abstention a show of unfriendly intent.

Despite such efforts, Russia failed to prevent the resolution from being adopted as only a limited number of countries, such as China and North Korea, voted against it. This is apparently because its military has committed extraordinarily vicious acts such as killing civilians and destroying evidence.

While the U.N. General Assembly has been able to make its presence felt, the U.N. Security Council, which is supposed to deal with acts of aggression, remains dysfunctional. The council has been unable to even adopt a resolution condemning Russia because the country opposes such a move and is a permanent member with veto power.

In his online address to the Security Council, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy discussed the devastation in his country and called for reforming the United Nations “so that the right of veto is not a right to kill.” The international community needs to respond to his plaintive cry.

The permanent members of the Security Council must all recognize that unchecked use of veto power is undermining the body’s credibility. The Ukraine crisis, which has shaken the international order that has been in place since the end of World War II, should be used as an opportunity to reform the council.

Japan, which has been advocating such reform for years, should propose concrete discussions on this issue by getting the United States, Britain and France involved.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 9, 2022)