Russia seeks to rejoin UN’s human rights council

In an election seen as a test of Russia’s international standing, Russia seeks to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In April last year, after its invasion of Ukraine, it was expelled by the UN’s most prestigious human rights organization.

Now, Russian diplomats want to re-elect their country to the Council for another three-year term.

The BBC has received a copy the position paper Russia circulates to UN members, asking for their backing.

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Next month, the vote will be held.

In the document, seen by BBC, Russia promises “adequate” solutions to human rights issues and tries to prevent the council from becoming “an instrument which serves the political will of one group countries”, a reference understood to be an allusion to the West.

Diplomats say that Russia is hoping to gain some international credibility, after it was accused of human right abuses both in Ukraine and its own borders.

In a report by its Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, the Human Rights Council received on Monday the latest evidence of these abuses.

Erik Mose said that there were continuing signs of war crimes, including torture, rape, and attacks against civilians.

Mariana Katzarova, the UN special rapporteur on Russia, said in a separate report published two weeks ago that the situation of human rights in Russia has also “significantly worsened” with those who criticize the invasion being subjected to torture, arbitrary arrests and other ill-treatment.

The UN Human Rights Council is based at Geneva, and it has 47 members who are elected to a term of three years.

The next round of elections is scheduled for 10 October. Russia, Albania, and Bulgaria will be competing for two seats in the Council reserved for countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

All 193 members will be voting in New York. Diplomats in New York said that Russia is aggressively campaigning, offering grain and weapons to small countries as a way of gaining their votes.

They said that it is possible for Russia to return to the Council.

In the Russian position document circulated at UN, it says that Russia wants to “promote the principles of cooperation and strengthen mutually respectful dialog in the council to find appropriate solutions to human rights issues”.

The main argument is that Russia will use its membership to “prevent the HRC becoming an instrument serving the political interests of a small group of countries”. It stated that it did not want the group to “punish non-loyal countries for their independent and foreign policy”.

In April 2022, 93 of the UN General Assembly members voted in favor. 24 voted against it and 58 abstained. In its paper, Russia blames the United States and their allies for its loss of membership.

Three campaign groups, UN Watch Human Rights Foundation Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Foundation, released a report in which they concluded that Russia is “unqualified” to be a member of the HRC.

The report stated that “re-electing Russia as a member of the UN Council now, when its war against Ukraine is still in progress, would be counterproductive to human rights, and would send the message that the UN does not intend to hold Russia accountable for the crimes it committed in Ukraine.”

The UK has said that it “strongly opposed” Russia’s bid for membership in the Human Rights Council.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “Russia’s contemptuous attitude towards the work of the Council is demonstrated by the widespread evidence of human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine, and even against its own citizens. These were highlighted just last week by the UN special rapporteur.

David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, claimed that Russia was responsible for atrocities committed in Ukraine. Its leader has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and showed utter disrespect for the UN Charter.

He said that the idea that Russia might return to the Human Rights Council was an insult to the concept of human right and a backwards move that would harm its credibility. “The government must work closely with countries that have abstained from voting in the past, to convince them of the importance of upholding the UN’s core values.”