Russia appeared more isolated than ever after a landmark vote in the UN Human Rights Council on Friday to launch an investigation into the abuses committed in Moscow’s Ukraine war.
“The message to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin was clear: you are isolated on a global level and the whole world is against you,” Ukrainian ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko told reporters after the overwhelming vote.
Thirty-two of the council’s 47 members voted to open the highest possible investigation, in an effort to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Only Russia itself and Eritrea voted against, with 13 countries abstaining, including traditional supporters of Moscow, China, Venezuela and Cuba.
The blow to Russia came after the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday issued its own strong rebuke, voting 141 to 5, to deplore the invasion of Moscow and demand an immediate withdrawal.
The Geneva council also condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the violations “resulting from the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine”.
The text, presented by Kiev, called for the “rapid and verifiable withdrawal of Russian Federation troops and Russian-backed armed groups from the entire territory of Ukraine”.
Most importantly, Friday’s vote paves the way for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses… in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine”.
– ‘Russia stands alone’ –
It calls for the appointment of three investigators to “establish the facts, circumstances and underlying causes of such violations and abuses”, and to collect evidence “to ensure those responsible are held accountable”.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already started investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.
“I thank everyone who voted for the cause,” Filipenko said, calling for the investigation to be started “as soon as possible, given the urgency of the situation”.
“This will be an important body to complement the work of the ICC,” she said.
Flanked by many of her colleagues from around the world, Filipenko celebrated that “the whole world is behind Ukraine”.
Some Kiev lenders echoed her sentiment.
“The vote was a strong condemnation of Russia’s actions,” said US Ambassador Sheba Crocker.
“Members of the international community stand behind Ukraine, and it is clear that Russia stands alone.”
Her British colleague Simon Manley praised the ‘unprecedented display of unity of the international community’.
– hold offenders liable –
However, Russian ambassador Gennady Gatilov said he did not believe Friday’s vote in the council reflected “all the nuances” of the positions of countries that voted for or abstained.
“I wouldn’t say we are isolated,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“A number of countries have been heavily pressured by the US and its Western allies.”
Eritrea, Moscow’s only open supporter, denounced those who sought to create a “unipolar world order” through the “encirclement and containment of Russia”.
“Ukraine is unfortunately a victim and scapegoated in their overarching plan to tighten the noose on Russia,” the foreign ministry in Asmara said in a statement.
However, Filipenko applauded Friday’s “historic” resolution, stressing that “those from Russia who direct and commit violations against my people must be on the lookout.”
“The evidence is being gathered. You will be identified and you will be held accountable.”
Friday’s decision was considered extremely strong by the rights council, which has never before passed a resolution directly targeting Russia.
Nevertheless, human rights groups suggested that the text should have gone further and called for the investigation to be expanded to include widespread abuses in Russia itself.
Some also called for the text to include a request for the General Assembly to consider revoking Russia’s membership of the Human Rights Council, with some countries appearing to support the idea.
When asked about it, Filipenko emphasized to reporters that “nothing is off the table”.