Russia is actively pursuing a return to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move that carries significant implications for its global reputation. This election represents a crucial litmus test for Russia’s standing on the international stage, considering its expulsion from the UN’s primary human rights body in April, following its military intervention in Ukraine. Russian diplomats are now making efforts to secure a fresh three-year term on the council.
The BBC has obtained a copy of Russia’s position paper, which is being circulated among UN members as it seeks their support for this endeavor. The vote is scheduled to take place next month. In this document, Russia commits to addressing human rights issues with “appropriate solutions” and aims to prevent the council from becoming an “instrument serving the political interests of a specific group of countries,” which is believed to refer to Western nations.
Diplomats suggest that Russia’s motivation for seeking re-election lies in its desire to restore some international credibility, following accusations of human rights violations both in Ukraine and within its own borders. Recent evidence of these violations, including war crimes such as torture, rape, and attacks on civilians, was presented to the Human Rights Council by the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.
A separate report from the UN’s special rapporteur for Russia, Mariana Katzarova, two weeks ago, highlighted a “significant deterioration” in the human rights situation in Russia, with critics of the Ukrainian invasion subjected to arbitrary arrests, torture, and mistreatment.
The UN Human Rights Council, headquartered in Geneva, comprises 47 members, each serving a three-year term. In the upcoming elections on October 10th, Russia will compete with Albania and Bulgaria for the two seats reserved for central and eastern European countries. This vote will involve all 193 members of the UN General Assembly in New York. Diplomats have noted Russia’s aggressive campaign, including offering incentives such as grain and arms to smaller countries in exchange for their votes, making it plausible for Russia to regain a seat on the council.
Russia’s position paper at the UN underscores its intention to “promote principles of cooperation and strengthen constructive, mutually respectful dialogue within the council to find appropriate solutions to human rights issues.” Its central argument is that it will use its membership to prevent the council from being used as a tool for advancing the political agenda of a specific group of countries and to avoid the punishment of governments that are not aligned with their policies.
Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Council in April 2022, with 93 members of the UN General Assembly voting in favor, 24 against, and 58 abstaining. In its position paper, Russia assigns blame for its loss of membership to “the United States and its allies.”
This month, a report by three advocacy groups – UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights – published that Russia was “unfit” for HRC membership. They argued that re-electing Russia to the council while its conflict with Ukraine persists would be counterproductive for human rights and would undermine the UN’s commitment to holding Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.
The United Kingdom has strongly opposed Russia’s bid to rejoin the Human Rights Council, citing extensive evidence of Russia’s human rights abuses in Ukraine and against its own citizens. Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy also expressed outrage at the prospect, highlighting Russia’s alleged atrocities in Ukraine and its leader’s indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, emphasizing the need to uphold the essential values of the UN.