Russia is formally seeking to rejoin the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, nearly 18 months after it was suspended from the body following its invasion of Ukraine.
The country is listed on the UN website as a candidate for the election of members of the council for the 2024-2026 term, with a vote due to take place on October 10.
Any move to reinstate Russia would be met with fury from the West, with several leading NATO states repeatedly insisting that Moscow’s illegal invasion of a neighboring state should disqualify it from membership of international bodies. A US spokesperson on Wednesday called the bid “preposterous.”
Russia has been accused of a huge number of human rights abuses over the course of its war in Ukraine, and the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for its President Vladimir Putin over an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
According to Russia’s position paper, which CNN obtained, Russia considers the Human Rights Council as a “key body in the United Nations systems.”
The position paper, which Russia is circulating to UN members to drum up support, states that Moscow “believes it is important to prevent the increasing trend of turning the Human Rights Council into the instrument, which serves political wills of one group of countries punishing non-loyal governments for their independent internal and external policy.”
Russia was removed from the body in April 2022, weeks after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Membership of the council is based on equitable geographical distribution, with two vacant seats in the Eastern European States regional group. Russia, along with Albania and Bulgaria, is listed as having announced their candidacy for that region so far.
Russia’s position paper claimed it would “firmly promote principles of cooperation and strengthening of constructive mutually respectful dialogue” if re-elected to the body.
But Western countries have already strongly pushed back against the effort. “We hope UN members will firmly reject its preposterous candidacy as they overwhelmingly did last year,” a US spokesman told CNN.
“Russia has committed violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as well as violations and abuses of human rights in Russia, including the arbitrary arrests of Russians endeavoring to exercise their freedom of expression to condemn Putin’s brutal war,” the spokesman said.
“In fact, the Council created a Special Rapporteur last October on the human rights situation in Russia, further demonstrating Russia’s unfitness for membership on the Council.”
A Human Rights Council commission said on Monday that there is “continuous evidence that Russian forces are “committing war crimes in Ukraine,” alleging that its attacks on the country include “unlawful attacks with explosive weapons, attacks harming civilians, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and attacks on energy infrastructure.”
Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko on Wednesday affirmed Kyiv’s view that Russia should not be allowed to rejoin the council.
“Ukraine’s position is clear, Russia should not be allowed to return to one of the key UN bodies until it is held accountable for all its crimes,” Nikolenko said in a Facebook post.
“The place of Russian war criminals is on the benches of the tribunal, not in the UN Human Rights Council.”
In the vote to suspend Russia from the council during the April 2022 UN General Assembly, 93 of the UN’s 193 countries supported the move to remove Moscow, while 24 voted against and 58 abstained.
China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Vietnam, alongside Russia, were among those opposing the move, while Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt and Saudi Arabia were among the abstentions.
Russia had joined the council in January 2021, as one of 15 countries elected to serve a three-year term.
It became the first country to be removed from the council since Libya, in 2011, following the repression of political protesters by its then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia remains one of five permanent members of the UN’s Security Council, and no clear legal framework exists to remove it from that post.
Moscow last took the presidency of that council, which rotates among the 15 members on a monthly basis, in April.