Joint Letter: Russia’s Role in Human Rights Abuses and Impunity Raise Questions About the Legitimacy of Future HRC Seat


The United Nations General Assembly will elect new members for the Human Rights Council in October 2020. Russia is running in a closed slate together with Ukraine for two seats, virtually granting Russia a seat at the Human Rights Council without scrutiny and challenge.
The undersigned organizations call upon the UN Member States to not vote in favor of Russia as a message that human rights violations in a number of countries cannot go unpunished, and that Russia should not see its election and membership of the Human Rights Council as a reward to further impunity for the human rights violations committed in Syria, Ukraine, and Georgia.
UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 asks that those voting for members of the Human Rights Council “take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” This guidance applies to candidates’ efforts to protect and promote human rights in their own countries and abroad. However, as referenced below, Russia’s actions in Syria, Ukraine, and Georgia stand in clear contrast to the Human Rights Council’s commitment to human rights.
The UN Member States should particularly take into consideration Russia’s indiscriminate attacks and war crimes in Syria and its ongoing efforts to prevent accountability for human rights violations in Syria; Russia’s occupation of Crimea and ongoing human rights violations in Crimea and the Donbas (Ukraine), Russia’s military invasion and occupation of Georgia’s two-breakaway territories, continued grave human rights violations against Georgian population in the occupied regions, and creeping borderization inside the Georgian territories.
Since the military intervention of Russia in Syria in 2015, Russian-Syrian military joint operations had committed indiscriminate attacks against civilians, protected sites, and civilian infrastructure in Aleppo , Eastern Ghouta , and Idlib in Syria. In March and July 2020, the UN Independent and International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic had found Russian forces directly responsible for war crimes in Idlib and provided further and detailed information on the role of Russia in committing war crimes and aiding the Syrian government in conducting airstrikes against civilians and the civilian population in Idlib. It is shocking that a State found responsible for war crimes by an HRC investigation mechanism should be granted a seat in the same UN venue without scrutiny from the international community.
Protection of civilians in Syria and fulfillment of victims’ rights for justice have been averted by the continuous efforts of Russia to prevent impartial accountability for crimes in Syria, abusing its veto power and using it in contexts of war crimes and crimes against humanity (in defiance of the ACT Code of Conduct for the Responsibility to Protect ), for instance with a veto to refer Syria to the ICC in 2014 , additionally using a veto to cancel a UN inquiry mechanism on the use and adjudication of responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in 2017 and more recently its withdrawal from the deconfliction mechanisms to protect hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure from indiscriminate attacks in Syria, and its veto on the cross-border humanitarian aid delivery authorization.

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