US and UK seek Russia's removal from UN body over Bucha atrocities

Moscow has faced a fresh wave of international censure following the discovery of mass graves in northern Ukraine

Volunteers collect bodies of murdered civilians in Bucha on Monday. AP
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Britain and the US on Monday ratcheted up pressure on Russia for allegedly committing atrocities during its invasion of Ukraine, pushing for Moscow’s removal from the UN’s top human rights body.

Speaking in Romania, Washington’s UN envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US would seek the suspension of Russia from its seat on the UN Human Rights Council amid increasing signs of war crimes in Ukraine.

“Russia's participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce," Ms Thomas-Greenfield said in Bucharest.

“And it is wrong, which is why we believe it is time the UN General Assembly vote to remove them."

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss quickly backed the move, saying Russia “cannot remain a member” of the UN rights body after the discovery of “mass graves and heinous butchery in Bucha”, on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Russia has faced global outrage over civilian killings in north Ukraine, where a mass grave and tied bodies shot at close range were discovered in Bucha, which was recaptured from Russian forces over the weekend. Moscow says the so-called atrocity was staged.

US President Joe Biden on Monday called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal and called for the holding of a war crimes trial.

"You may remember I got criticised for calling Putin a war criminal. Well, the truth of the matter – we saw it happen in Bucha – this warrants him – he is a war criminal," Mr Biden said.

The US is seeking a vote on Russia’s suspension at the 193-nation UN General Assembly this week.

A two-thirds majority is needed to suspend a country for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.

The General Assembly has twice voted overwhelmingly to censure Russia for its aggression in Ukraine.

The roughly 140 anti-Moscow votes in those two polls exceeded the two-thirds threshold, but it remains unclear whether UN members will back ejecting Russia from the rights chamber.

"My message to those 140 countries who have courageously stood together is: the images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us to now match our words with action," said Ms Thomas-Greenfield.

Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, said on Twitter that the "horrific" scenes from Bucha highlighted the need for "an immediate ceasefire" and called for an end the "worsening humanitarian crisis".

"The UAE plays its part in providing relief to those affected in Ukraine, and encourages a diplomatic approach to confront this crisis through an urgent political solution," he said.

Moscow has denied attacking civilians in a military operation that it says is necessary to prevent the eastward expansion of the Nato military alliance.

Russia's ambassador to the UN in Geneva Gennady Gatilov said the US initiative was not likely to succeed. He said Washington “exploits the Ukraine crisis for its own benefit” and to isolate Russia, according to Reuters.

Moscow has been spurned at the UN since it invaded its neighbour Ukraine on February 24. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described it as “morally unacceptable” and called for an independent probe into deaths in Bucha.

The UN Human Rights Council has condemned reported rights abuses by Russian forces and launched an investigation to hold perpetrators to account. The UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague has ordered Russia to halt the invasion, saying it lacked justification.

Russia and the UN Security Council's other four permanent members — Britain, France, China and the US — all currently have seats on the 47-member state rights council. The US rejoined the chamber this year.

Ms Truss said she is pressing for allies to go further in tackling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying money is still flowing from the West to Vladimir Putin’s “war machine”.

Alongside Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba in Warsaw, she said: “It is the responsibility of the UK and our allies ... to step up our support for our brave Ukrainian friends.

“That means more weapons and more sanctions. Putin must lose in Ukraine. Later this week the G7 foreign ministers and the Nato foreign ministers will meet. We need to announce a tough new wave of sanctions."

Updated: April 04, 2022, 7:56 PM