Suspending Russia: a Precedent That Undermines the Credibility of the Human Rights Council

On 7 April the UN General Assembly decided to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council.  This establishes a destructive precedent not only for the future of the Human Rights Council, but for the future of other United Nations institutions.

I do not wish to overestimate the consequences of the GA decision.  Obviously, it is a blow to Russia’s prestige, and adds to the general atmosphere of Russophobia that we have seen over the decades. We can expect in the future that efforts will be made to exclude other countries from membership in the Human Rights Council – one could think of excluding several NATO countries for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by their forces during the wars of aggression against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria.  We could think of excluding Saudi Arabia because of its genocidal war against the people of Yemen. We could think of excluding India for its systematic war crimes and gross violations of human rights against the people of Kashmir, including widespread extra-judicial executions.  Another credible candidate for suspension would be Azerbaijan because of its aggression against the hapless Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh during the Blitzkrieg of September-November 2020, where war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed, including torture and execution of Armenian prisoners of war. We could think of excluding Colombia because of its lethal para-military activities and consistent pattern of killing human rights defenders, social leaders, syndicalists and indigenous peoples.

Let us not shed too many tears over the Human Rights Council, whose authority and credibility are questionable, and whose resolutions are routinely ignored by many countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. Since its creation in 2006 the Human Rights Council has not served human rights well – but it has certainly served the geopolitical and informational interests of the United States and the European Union

The GA decision also puts a further nail on the coffin of the General Assembly itself.  It manifests how the Assembly can and is manipulated by the United States and by the bullying, arm-twisting and blackmailing practices of the Department of State.

Far more serious for the world are the economic sanctions and financial blockade imposed by the US and EU countries on Russia, which will have a long-lasting impact on the world economy, hurting the most vulnerable not only in Russia, but also in Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Asia.

The decision of the GA sets a dangerous precedent and further politicizes the Human Rights Council. One would think that precisely because some countries do not like what Russia is doing that they would like to “tame” it by involving it in the human rights work of the Council.  Isolating a country is always counter-productive.  What is needed is greater inclusion and greater debate – not exclusion and hate-mongering.

The GA vote illustrates the success of the “information war” that has been waged against Russia for decades – not just since 2022, not even since 2014 and the Maidan coup – long before there was systematic dis-information about Russia and a consistent negative narrative.  This has a simple explanation:  NATO has had no raison d’être since the Warsaw Pact was dismantled in 1991.  In order to continue existing, NATO must have an “enemy” – and that is the only role that the US and NATO assigned to Russia.  The Russian bogeyman is necessary and guarantees that the US military-industrial-financial complex can continue its war on the world and on the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

The evidence before the General Assembly

The allegations of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian forces in Bucha in the vicinity of Kiev precipitated this move by the US to have Russia removed from the Human Rights Council. How much do we know about the events?  While Ukraine accused Russia of murdering 400 civilians in Bucha before retreating from the town, the Russian government has refuted these allegations, pointing out that Russian forces withdrew in an orderly fashion on 30 March and that no allegations of extra judicial executions were made until 2 April, four days later, when Ukrainian security forces and TV cameras arrived in Bucha. The US and NATO accepted Kiev’s claims uncritically and used them to justify imposing further sanctions against Russia.  However, serious doubts have arisen about a possible staged event and tampering with the photos and videos.  Do we have here another false flag operation as we have seen multiple times in Syria, staged chemical attacks that could not be confirmed by expert inspectors?  Are the dead persons civilians or military?  Were the bodies those of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians victims of artillery bombardment?  Were the bodies Russian soldiers wearing white armbands or Ukrainian civilians with white armbands to signal their peaceful intentions and subsequently lynched by Ukrainian extremists for collaboration with the Russians? One day we may find out whether the US had advance knowledge of the alleged crimes in Bucha or whether it was involved in manufacturing evidence for the information war. Of course, nobody knows. What we need is whistleblowers, more Julian Assanges and more Wikileaks.


An international commission of inquiry should investigate, but that will take time, because the evidence on the ground (to the extent it has not been destroyed) must be evaluated and witnesses on all sides must be heard. Gradually some information is coming out that does not confirm Ukrainian claims, and in a series of recorded satellite phone calls, a reporter identified as “Simon” tells his colleagues that at Borodyanka “there’s no bodies in the streets at all”, contrary to what he had been led to believe. Apparently the town had been “shelled to pieces”, but it is not clear whether by Russian or Ukrainian artillery.  In any event, Simon concluded “there is no evidence of any rights abuses here”.  Simon and his crew interviewed residents who reported that the Russian soldiers had been correct and given them food, water and other supplies.  Simon concluded: “I do not know what the prosecutor was talking about, but we have seen nothing like that. It is a completely different picture.” An international investigation is justified and necessary, but any ad hoc commission must investigate allegations of crimes committed not only by Russian soldiers but also by Ukrainian soldiers and para-militaries, in particular against the Russian-Ukrainians of Lugansk and Donetsk since 2014, and the pogrom against 50 Russian-Ukrainians in Odessa in May 2014.

Therefore, it could be said without fear of contradiction, that the GA vote was premature and violated general principles of law concerning due process and the presumption of innocence. According to the principle “audiatur et altera pars” — Russia’s evidence and arguments must be heard and given due weight. The absence of due process is yet another disgrace for the General Assembly.

Double standards

This is not the first and will not be the last time that the General Assembly applies double standards and adopts flawed resolutions or decisions. It seems like the entire United Nations system has been hijacked by the West and has the full support of a homologated corporate media that acts as echo chamber of the State Department.

Another example of egregious double-standards and selective indignation:  The International Criminal Court.  We hear politicians demand a “Nuremberg” Trial against Putin.  Well, why not a Tribunal to investigate and condemn the crimes of aggression committed by Bill Clinton in Yugoslavia, by George W. Bush and Tony Blair in Iraq, by Barack Obama in Libya, Syria and Ukraine (after all, Obama was president when the “no fly” zone over Libya was manipulated for “regime change”  — we all remember Hillary Clinton’s infamous words:  “We came, we saw, he died”).  Any tribunal should also investigate the crimes committed by Ukrainian sharp-shooters at Maidan in connection with the 2014 coup d’état against the democratically elected President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich.  The International Criminal Court also has a responsibility to investigate and prosecute NATO forces from the US, UK, Germany, Australia, who committed atrocities e.g. in Afghanistan and Iraq?  How about the torture centres in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo?  How about the use of indiscriminate weapons including depleted uranium weapons, white phosphorus and cluster bombs, causing tens of thousands of deaths?  How about all the “collateral damage” visited upon civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya?

Where is the accountability for all of these crimes?  The International Criminal Court will not have any credibility until it decides to apply the Statute of Rome seriously and go after the likes of George W. Bush and Joe Biden.  Hitherto the West has “gotten away with it” – but for how long?  Will the ICC remain in the service of the West, as a strong arm of the Pentagon?  Hitherto we have observed the culture of impunity that protects Western leaders.  Will the rule of law ever evolve into the rule of justice?

Alfred de Zayas is a law professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on International Order 2012-18. He is the author of twelve books including “Building a Just World Order” (2021) “Countering Mainstream Narratives” 2022, and “The Human Rights Industry” (Clarity Press, 2021).