Human Rights Issues

Russia suspended from UN Human Rights Council membership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UN Human Rights Council

Mains level: Russia's expulsion from UNHRC

Russia’s membership to the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to which it was elected in 2020, was suspended after the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) vote.

Why was Russia suspended from UNHRC?

  • Russia’s three-year term as member of the Council began on January 1, 2021.
  • With membership on the Council comes a responsibility to uphold high human rights standards.
  • It is this responsibility that Russia is alleged to have wilfully violated in Ukraine.

India stayed absent. Why?

  • India questioned the process by which the move to suspend Russia took place given that it happened before the international probe into the massacre.
  • New Delhi’s point is that it should have been brought before the Human Rights Council first, and not the UNGA, sources said.
  • This is a signal to the West that due process has not been followed, something that Indian interlocutors can draw Moscow’s attention to.

About UN Human Rights Council

  • The UNHRC is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, which is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.
  • It addresses and makes recommendations on situations of human rights violations, and can discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations.
  • The UNHRC replaced the former UN Commission on Human Rights.
  • It was created by the UNGA on March 15, 2006, and the body met in its first session from June 19-30, 2006.

Working of the Council

In 2007, the Council adopted an “institution-building package” to set up its procedures and mechanisms. Among these were:

  1. Mechanism of Universal Periodic Review to assess the human rights situations in all UN Member States.
  2. It has Advisory Committee that serves as the Council’s think tank providing it with expertise and advice on thematic human rights issues.
  3. Its Complaint Procedure, allows individuals and organisations to bring human rights violations to the Council’s attention.
  4. The Council also works with the UN Special Procedures established by the former Commission on Human Rights, consisting of special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts etc.

Membership of the Council

  • The Council, which meets at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland, is made up of 47 UN Member States who are elected by majority vote through a direct and secret ballot at the UNGA.
  • The membership of the Council is based on equitable geographical distribution.
  • African and Asia-Pacific states have 13 seats each, Latin American and Caribbean states have 8 seats, Western European and other states 7 seats, and Eastern European states 6 seats.
  • The members serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.

Leadership of the Council

  • The Council has a five-person Bureau, consisting of a president and four vice-presidents, each representing one of the five regional groups.
  • They serve for a year each, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.
  • The Human Rights Council President of the 16th Cycle (2022) is Federico Villegas, who is the Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva.
  • He was elected president of the Human Rights Council for 2022 in December 2021.

Meetings of the Council

  • The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least 10 weeks.
  • These sessions take place in March (4 weeks), June (3 weeks) and September (3 weeks).
  • The Council met in its latest (49th) regular session from February 28 to April 1, 2022
  • If a third of the Member states requests, the Council can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.
  • Under the presidency of Nazhat S Khan of Fiji, the Council held a record five special sessions in 2021 — on Myanmar, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Ethiopia.


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