Turkey votes to suspend Russia from U.N. Human Rights Council
Turkey was among 93 nations that voted to suspend Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, April 7.

The vote marked a resumption of a special emergency session of the 193-member assembly on the war in Ukraine. It came after reports of human rights violations by Russian troops, including in Bucha, where hundreds of civilian bodies were found in the streets and in mass graves.

The United States and its allies in Europe are eyeing Turkey’s stance vis-à-vis Russia during the war for signs that it will return to a traditionally firmer position within the Western alliance. Turkey bought Russian S-400 air defense missiles in 2019, sparking U.S. sanctions including its expulsion from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program. Ankara has worked closely with Russia on regional issues including Syria, raising concern that it is moving away from the West.

Turkey slammed Russia’s behavior at a NATO meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, labelling it as “unacceptable”. Photographs of the scenes in Bucha “overshadowed the negotiations” between Russian and Ukrainian officials on a possible ceasefire, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

In late February, Turkey abstained from a vote on suspending Russia from the Council of Europe, calling for dialogue not confrontation.

The vote to bar Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council received a two-thirds majority of those voting, minus abstentions, the U.N. said on its website. Twenty-four opposed and 58 abstained.

Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Vietnam, were among those who opposed the resolution. Those abstaining included India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Russia was one of 15 countries elected by the U.N. General Assembly to serve a three-year term in the body in January last year. The assembly can suspend a country should it commit gross and systematic human rights violations.

Turkey’s vote to bar Russia from the council came after the United States congratulated Ankara for its contribution to securing peace in Ukraine – it hosted talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators last week. On Monday, U.S. State Department Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria J. Nuland visited Ankara for talks with senior Turkish officials. They agreed to launch a strategic mechanism to boost ties.

Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had invited him to Washington D.C. for talks on May 18. On Wednesday, Reuters published details of a letter sent by the Biden administration to Congress that said granting Turkey’s request to buy more F-16 fighter jets and upgrades to its existing fleet of aircraft would be in the strategic interests of the United States and NATO.

Turkish officials were participating in the U.N. and NATO meetings as Defense Minister Hulusi Akar held talks on the phone with Russian counterpart Sergey Shoigu. Akar told Shoigu on Thursday that an urgent agreement was needed to halt the war and to evacuate people from conflict zones, the Turkish Defense Ministry said in a statement.

NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels this week (6-7 April 2022) agreed to sustain and further strengthen support for Ukraine, and step up cooperation with partners.

Russian Deputy Permanent Representative Gennady Kuzmin said that Russia had already decided the same day to leave the council before the end of its term. He said the council was monopolized by a group of states who used it to fulfil their short-term aims.

 “These states for many years have directly been involved in blatant and massive violations of human rights, or abetted those violations,” he said.

China said before the vote that such a hasty move by the general assembly would be like “adding fuel to the fire” by aggravating divisions, intensifying the conflict, and jeopardizing peace efforts.

 “Dealing with the membership of the Human Rights Council in such a way will set a new dangerous precedent,” said Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative, according to the U.N. statement.

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